Danny Green waits with a ball near the free throw line as the rest of the team gathers near half-court on the left side of the floor. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker meet at half-court with the visiting team's captains and fans selected for a picture. The players exchange greetings, Tim and Tony pose for the fan picture, and Tim darts toward the scorer's table. If Sean Elliott is doing pre-game TV work Tim either slaps him on the back of the head or occasionally shoves him completely off his stool as he runs past.
Danny throws Tim the ball and he sprints toward the basket, launching a double pump reverse layup that seldom goes in. This is the cue for the rest of the team to finish warming up and prepare for the National Anthem.
While the opposing team is introduced Tim stands closest to the bench, directly across from Kawhi Leonard. Leonard stares at the floor and holds his arms out with his hands cupped, similar to the "U" sign that Miami Hurricane fans have made famous. His intent isn't to display any sort of message, but to somehow keep Tim Duncan away from him.
Tim bounces from foot to foot and does little shadow boxing motions directed at Kawhi. He talks quietly to him, and I can only imagine the things he says. It probably involves lots of bad words and bad things he would do if Kawhi would just look up.
Kawhi never looks up.
As the lights go down to begin Spurs introductions, Tim is off to hang on the rim.
The TV cameras never catch this, and few people inside the arena pay attention to his routine, but I watch it every night. I describe his antics to friends in Dallas and Houston whenever they bombard me with the usual "Tim is rude' and "Tim has no personality" cliches. I've heard "I'd much rather have someone fun like Dirk Nowitzki or Dwight Howard as my favorite player" more times than I can count.
The facts of my argument get in the way of their preconceived notions. People have to work hard for reasons not to like the Spurs, so they hold tightly to their justifications. Instead of considering the possibility that Tim probably has the best sense of humor on the team and is beloved by his teammates, most would rather picture Tim Duncan as he appears in the photo above. Surly, boring and possessing no emotion other than confused disdain when called for a foul. These barbs are in addition to the old familiar standbys.
Manu Ginobili is a flopper.
Tony Parker is whiny.
Tim Duncan has never committed a foul.
We've all heard it for years. But why? This terrific and hilarious article by Nils Parker (via medium.com) about how we love to hate Duke might help explain. You really need to read the entire story, but a couple of paragraphs really seem to hit close to home.
As a basketball team, they play smart and with discipline. They share the ball, they take good shots and they listen to their coach. They play like a team with very little selfish behavior. They huddle before free throws-theirs or the opponents-and actually look like they're supporting each other. Watching them play a lesser team during the pre-conference schedule is like watching the high school team from Pleasantville. Every shot goes in. It's infuriating!
Does any of that sound familiar?
Parker then goes on to explain how we as a society have learned to accept those with almost superhuman talents that we can't explain. Whether it's a child prodigy that can play Beethoven as beautifully as Beethoven, or an athlete with the speed and strength of a LeBron James, there are those that are the others. Those that are not like us. We accept them from afar and without malice because they are not like us.
But when America looks at the Spurs bench they don't see many of the others. Sure Tim Duncan is a shoe-in HOFer, but there's nothing super human about the man. There's nothing other worldly about Manu Ginobili. Instead there's his awkward style of play that delights Spurs fans but has a tendency to anger everyone else, especially when his awkward play is successful. Rather than relying on superhuman talent, the Spurs thrive on a system of discipline and precision. Two traits that don't only exist on Krypton. In a strange twist of human nature, the Spurs are disliked because they are not the others. There is no gap. Again, from Nils Parker.
What puts Duke so squarely in our cross-hairs is that they clearly do not exist on the other side of this gap. They do not have endowments like Harvard or Stanford. They do not have freaks of nature on their team like Kentucky or Kansas. We look at their bench or their student section and we do not see Anthony Davis and John Wall or the next Sergey Brin and Larry Page. We see versions of ourselves, of our kids. And we hate them for it because if they are not from the other side of the gap, they are from our side. And that means they succeeded by doing things right, by doing things we didn't do: practicing the fundamentals, working hard, studying, sacrificing, persevering, delaying gratification. It's the same reason people can't stand Mormons or mock the humility of the Heartland. They're too good to be true.
This is not Duke's problem, this is our problem. And every March, when Duke enters the NCAA Tournament as a top-3 seed (as they almost always do), we struggle to accept it. Our taunts about them devolve into accusations-they're whiny, they complain to the refs too much, they get too many calls, they play dirty down low, they're spoiled babies, they cheat, etc. If they're not super-human, they must be super-privileged, that has to be the reason. Deep down we know they're not like us, and we're right. It's the other way around. We're just like them, except we dropped the ball and they picked it up and ran with it.
Reading that last paragraph makes me think about Danny Green. How can a guy like Danny Green set an NBA Finals record for three pointers? There's nothing special about Danny Green. Danny Green is just a regular guy that excelled at the highest level on the world's biggest stage. So America decides Danny Green should go away.
Danny Green is hitting 51.8% of 3-pointers during March, his best month since April 2012.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 25, 2014
@OKCsportsGUY If Danny Green shoots poorly in the playoffs, it won't be because it's the playoffs. This is an odd attempt at smack talk.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 25, 2014
.@OKCsportsGUY So because Danny freaking Green didn't finish off his Finals MVP march, he clearly can't shoot in the playoffs. OK then.— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) March 25, 2014
Now of course some of this is just normal smack talk that goes on between fan bases, but just as with Duke, there does exist a desire for the Spurs to fall flat on their face. It seems as if some take more joy in the Spurs failing than their own favorite team succeeding. It's a subterranean schadenfreude. Not always visible on the surface, but it's definitely there.
America might be more vocal in the joy it finds in the downfall of Justin Bieber or failings of Tony Romo, but make no mistake Spurs: America quietly hates you. She will mumble her begrudging respect and express her admiration for the banners hanging in your rafters, but she hates you because you are no different than she.
But yet somehow, you always do things better.