Last Tuesday night was my first time in the Bay Area and it was also my first trip to a Spurs game alone. It was strange because I grew up attending games with my father. So, the trip to Oracle Arena felt like my first time at the movies alone.
At the cinema by myself, it was as though I was committing a crime. I vividly remember trying to appear invisible as I shuffled my feet down the aisle. I didn't want the couples and teenage kids thinking "what's that loser doing here?" I even put on a puzzled gaze during the ads and previews, looking to my sides often as if I was waiting for a lost friend. I may have even shrugged my shoulders in a "well, I guess they aren't coming" attempt to look less pathetic. It felt very awkward to experience something isolated that I had always done communally.
And as I rode the BART train from San Fran to Oakland, it was awkward not having my dad next to me. I wasn't able to update him on the Spurs progress of the season nor hear him butcher the players' names. It was strange to not have my wife with me, who I get to feel super knowledgable around when I explain the Spurs history and rules of the game. Once again, I felt as though I was doing something wrong. I sat between two couples, center court, upper deck and I was self-consciously expecting that they were wondering what I was doing there.
Though I have gone to the movies alone dozens of times over the years, but it's never heightened my awareness of the plot or characters. It's just allowed me to go on my own schedule and see the independent films that the other people in my life don't want see. But, as I began to get comfortable, I realized that going to a Spurs game alone, especially for an away game, opened my eyes in a couple of ways.
One, I saw that being a Spurs fan in itself is a communal experience. I have enough perspective to know that the Spurs are not my friends. They are a part of my life, but I realize as Jimmy Fallon does in Fever Pitch that the team has "never loved me back." But, this trip to hostile blue-and-gold territory felt like a trip to see friends that had recently moved. Though the setting is unfamiliar, you know the old pals so well that you don't skip a beat. You visit expecting a changed person, but are thrilled to find your old buddy hasn't changed a bit.
I knew when Tim Duncan was going to start goofing around in warmups and anticipated Danny Green's pre-game karate routine. Just like you know when a buddy will bust out a signature joke, I knew just when the game ws falling into the Spurs' unyielding grip. I've seen it so many times and I am not tired of it. The same way you don't get tired of great stories. Every time you catch something different, but you love how it always hits you the same.
Though I was at the game alone, I was still experiencing it communally. That's what the Spurs have provided for their fans over the years. It's a unique connection. They are so consistent and their pounding of the rock is so ongoing, it has felt like an invitation to their supporters. I was 7 when Tim Duncan was drafted, I am now 25. The amount of time that one team has logged together cements the Spurs into people's lives. Think about what you go through over 17 years. How many constants can you really point to?
Because of their private nature and less than candid interviews, people often complain that they don't know the Spurs like they wish they did. However, their constancy has actually let everyone in on who they are. Free, unselfish, tenacious, grounded and wonderfully predictable. Getting to experience a game on my own showed me how well I know them, but how lucky I am to be able to say that.
Two, I got to take in an opposing crowd's reaction to the Spurs. The 113-100 win over Golden State was the most Spursy win of the early season. It featured a balanced attack, fluidity, occasional beauty and often suffocating D. Tony Parker dropped 28 and after every floater, tear drop and jumper the Warriors fans let out a gasp as if to say "How? Why?" Fans around me began to ask me questions about the Spurs. I didn't know what to say. I don't know why Kawhi Leonard makes pick pocketing look so effortless (besides his enormous hands, of course). But, I truly don't know how someone as walrusy as Boris Diaw can look so lyrical while moving. It's just what he does.
It became clear that they are not used to the routine brilliance of the Spurs. How can anyone be? It's so unprecedented that unless you have been with them from the beginning, or unless you're a basketball nut, you can't understand how they've been able to continually prosper.
As the Spurs clenched their fists around the game, the Warriors fans seemed to have this reaction like "I don't know what they did to us." And maybe that's pretty accurate. Does anyone understand what they have done the past 17 years besides bringing the old rock hammer down again and again? That's the brilliance of the Spurs. It's not how mightily they've swung the hammer, but the consistence with which they've done it. It leaves fans reacting with gasps and shaking heads, not understanding how they're still around.
I don't know how they are still around either. I just know they haven't stopped pounding. And I am beyond thankful, as all Spurs fans are, that we've been allowed to appreciate it for so long.
Notes from the game:
1) The Oakland fans I spoke to about the Raiders did not find the flirting with San Antonio amusing. I am assuming that the guy with the Raiders logo tattooed on his forearm with the words "Loyal Forever" is not in favor of the move.
2) Oracle Arena is very Frank Erwin Centery in its feel. All you Longhorn fans out there would understand. It's rock and concrete everywhere, and the hallways around the arena are very narrow, as the arena is shaped like a drum.
3) I will never be annoyed by the AT&T center prices again. A small Bud Light is 12 dollars at Oracle. No thanks, California.
4) The Warriors still seem to be a piece away from being a championship contender. I think the top end of the current team would be getting to the Finals and losing in a weak year, ala Orlando 2009. Curry and Thompson are easy to make uncomfortable. Maybe I am wrong but I see them needing a truly fearless attacker to really be a championship team.