Halloween 2012 seems like a strange place to start a story about the Spurs. Especially right now, days after the long Drive for Five has finally ended.
But, Halloween 2012 was the night I began to unravel as a Spurs fan. My attitude on this night ensured that I was a sitting duck to be completely taken out by the sniper rifle Ray Allen would fire from the corner 7 months later.
In October, basketball seems like it's trying to force its way back into the hearts of fans who are totally consumed in the throes of football season. I can tell you honestly that I never expend too much energy on the Spurs in October. I've loved the Spurs since I was nine and my love for them puts my love for all other teams to shame. However, in October I have a fantasy football team that's depending on me. Sure, I'll tune into a few games, read power rankings and form opinions, but I am by no means living by the Spurs in the fall.
Anyways, Halloween 2012 I sat and watched the Spurs squeak a victory out against the then Hornets, in the Brow's first ever NBA game. And I was miserable. It hit me that it was October 31st and 81 more games and a grueling playoff run stood before the Spurs. The pain of losing four straight against OKC was still looming inside me.
I didn't understand how the Spurs had gone from playing the best basketball I had ever seen, to looking lost and hopeless against a bunch of newcomers. They had missed their chance, they hadn't taken advantage of a 20 game win streak in a lockout shortened season. They had lost to a group of younger players who proceeded to lose to LeBron (now fully in god-mode). The Spurs were done. I couldn't take it. I convinced myself I couldn't watch that year. And I gave up. I was angry.
I was angry because I had said goodbye to the Spurs. I had said goodbye so many times. I had made peace. But, they'd sucked me back in during the 2012 season and broken my heart. And I didn't want to give them an inch.
By the way, I realize the emo nature of this piece. I am a passionate guy who has loved the Spurs forever. I am now a 24 year old married man who still watches the basketball team that has the same best player/coach that it had when I was under 5 feet and watching on a rear projection screen. It's the last thing that's left from my childhood and it's the one thing that can get me to immediately react like a child.
Letting Go: 2008
My senior year of high school, days before graduation. My flip phone laid on the ground in pieces. Don't worry, it always did that. I threw my flip phone a lot during Spurs games because it would bust then pop right back together. The Spurs were losing their grasp on a game 5 against the Lakers in Los Angeles. Kevin Garnett was prepping to prove to the universe that "ANYTHING'S POSSIBLE!"
Anything except the Spurs winning back to back championships, that is.
Manu was constantly getting hurt. Brent and Horry were on their way out. It didn't seem like this team had anything left. Not with the Lakers selling their souls for Pau and the Celtics nabbing KG and Ray Allen. Lebron had looked absolutely amazing in the second round against Boston. There was too much competition. Tim had said it himself the year before, it's Lebron's league.
I popped my phone back together. I'd gotten to witness four championships, an amazing run. I figured the Spurs would slip into perpetual mediocrity and that was okay because we had been so blessed as fans. I felt like someone who was realizing one of their loved ones was slipping away and though I was sad, I accepted it.
One of the most painful stages in losing someone is realizing that the person you love is still there, but not who they once were. I'm sure a lot of Spurs fans felt like this during these two seasons. In thinking about the fact that the 2009 Spurs relied heavily on Drew Gooden and Roger Mason Jr. I am reminded of the scene in Dodgeball where Ben Stiller reminds the Average Joes that their "best player is a pirate." It was just slow and agonizing.
I remember telling my dad, my lifelong Spurs buddy that I wanted them to just die. For their sakes. Tank and get involved in the draft. 2010 was somewhat better, minus Keith Bogans and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The upset of the Mavs in the first round was like getting to see a flash of the departing person's old self. Then Goran Dragic and a Suns sweep reminded us that the Spurs were done. Bill Simmons wrote his farewell column. I was disgusted at the two seasons, but glad my Spurs were no longer in pain.
Nail In The Coffin: 2011
An offense centered around Tony Parker, a resurgence, an amazing record and a 30 point blowout of the newly incepted HEAT. They'd been healed. They were back.
Then an empty gas tank, too much Bonner, a 30 point loss to the HEAT, not enough nasty and the Grizzlies happened. The Spurs had joined the humiliating 2007 Mavericks and lost to an 8 Seed. I didn't understand why they couldn't have just stayed dead. Game 5 was such a valiant, yet sad attempt by a team to stay alive. You could tell the Spurs were clawing just to stay relevant. But, in the end they just didn't have it. There was no .4 second shot, no dumb foul, no blown leads or injuries to blame. The Spurs just were not the better team anymore.
Now their resume was tarnished and my memory of them was starting to cloud. If enough bad years are packed onto the end, the good times will start to get fuzzy. Four seasons since the last championship and every year the losses got more humiliating. I finally decided to embrace 100% the fact that the Spurs were over. If the Mavs winning a championship wasn't a sign that all was lost, what was? I tweeted "Thanks for the memories." I secretly hoped for more.
A Sick Joke: 2012
I had never seen anything like what I saw in the first two rounds of the playoffs in 2012. I had been elated for months. I decided to tune into the lockout season because I expected a fun rebuilding year. Then, it was like I was Mary & Martha and had gotten another chance with Lazarus.
The Spurs were running the beautiful offense they had started to run in 2012, but now had players to maximize it. I fell in love with the dude with the big hands instantly. I lost my mind when we signed Boris Diaw. I had wanted him and Mickael Pietrus (oh well) since I was 16! The team from my childhood wasn't dead, they were alive. I took my wife (then girlfriend) to game one of the Clippers series for her first Spurs game and basked in the energy that had been restored to the AT&T center. It was like the neighborhood park had been fixed up and everyone was back.
Those moments in game 2 against the Thunder leading up to the Hack A Splitter. "A basketball clinic" as Reggie Miller said.* I was witnessing a resurrection.
But, with the resurrection of the Spurs I allowed an old part of myself to be resurrected. Though I still kept up with the Spurs from 2008-2011 it was hard to want to throw flip phones and yell when Richard Jefferson looked like he had seizures that made him do ugly pro hops. That's more roll your eyes inducing, rather than rage. But, this success, this brilliance. It was so familiar. It was my childhood again. It was my passionate fire for the Spurs.
I caught myself daydreaming about a 16-0 sweep of the playoffs, I read SpursTalk (where you're reminded of our hopelessness as humans) and I acted like an idiot myself. I gloated to my friends at UT who were front running Thunder fans.
Tim and Stephen Jackson couldn't even stand up to give their post game locker room interviews after game 6. The devastation was awful. You could tell they believed they were going to win it. They were shocked. I had seen them healed and get up, only to get plowed over by a bus minutes later.
Unraveling: Halloween 2012-Ray Allen's Shot-Game 4 of OKC 2014
I had gotten so upset after we lost to the Thunder. It still was such a brutal loss. I know it doesn't compare to 2013, 2006 and 2004, but man, it was bad. By the way, my next column will be a final cleansing. I will write satirically about the top 10 worst playoff losses in Spurs history.
My fiancé (now wife) had never seen me in full Spurs guy mode until the aftermath of the WCF. Yikes. So on Halloween, I sat there miserable. Unable to enjoy the Spurs because of how grueling and cruel the tease and disappointment of the past few years had been. I didn't denounce my fandom, I just attempted to be indifferent. Then I made the mistake of believing that if they could somehow win one more in the Tim era, I'd be happy, satisfied, content, childhood topped off with a cherry.
The 2013 season was my first year out of college and I was working and engaged. Those things coupled with the fact that Halloween had made me miserable caused me to be pretty out of touch with the season. I thought Spursgate was awesome and saw Spoelstra's revenge live, but all in all I tried to stay distant.
Then I got married, moved and started a new job in a new city. And nothing was familiar, except the old familiar force from my childhood. The Spurs. Game 1 of the Spurs and Warriors being the classic that it was, reignited the flame that had been suppressed. I was back in full Spurs mode, but my fandom was unraveling still. I wasn't in horror movie mode as JR Wilco likes to be in. I was living and dying with them.
I started writing for Pounding the Rock before Game 3 of the Warriors series and did a pretty good job the rest of the playoffs. I got to be friends with JR Wilco and really loved writing game reactions. I started making plans to cover them even more actively in 2013-2014.
Then the Spurs got back to The Finals. It was not just a resurrection, but a complete restoration in my eyes. (I love stories, I am always looking for the narrative). The childhood love of mine was back on their seat in the kingdom. I held tight to what I had said. "One more championship and I am good."
The truth is, if they won the next 100 championships I'd never be satisfied, because they are a bunch of men I don't know playing a game that I myself suck at (I am bitchin' at HORSE by the way, just can't dribble, I'm a 5'8 165 pound Steve Novak).
When Ray's three went down, I lost it. I acted like an idiot. I didn't watch game 7. Though I did turn it on to see Tim slap the floor, which was like jumping in too late to save someone from drowning. Then I wrote a column about if being a fan was worth the pain and it got a lot of traction. I then didn't walk in what I said in the piece at all. I couldn't. Because I had stupidly allowed myself to unravel on Halloween 2012.
I started to believe that in some degree, the outcome of a basketball game played in a finite space on a certain date would satisfy whatever it was in me that wanted my childhood to be capped. Because the Spurs lost game 6, I couldn't just enjoy sports anymore because I had given it as much weight as I did when I was 14. I wrote two more forced articles about who the Spurs should draft and another one about remembering a game from the Hornets series in 2008. Then I checked out. I stopped reading PTR, I didn't read about the NBA. I didn't want to care.
I was unraveled as a fan.
And in the process, I missed out on one of the most enjoyable seasons in sports history. I missed out on getting to write for PTR even though JR Wilco kept graciously offering and keeping up with me. Even though all I had done was totally flake out.
You see, I love sports. I love the camaraderie, I love the analysis, the narratives, the conversation and the memories. But, because I convinced myself that a 3 falling in Miami from the corner had some impact on my satisfaction, I lost all of that this season. I only watched four regular season Spurs games and went to the last regular season game in Dallas. Every game just reminded me that Ray Allen hit a three. Every game reminded me of the excitement I felt for a split second with 28 seconds left. And it was all so stupid. The Spurs won 19 in a row and I shrugged it off by saying it was Lazarus faking resurrection again. The bus was coming to run him down.
I went to the last regular season game against the Mavericks in Dallas and was hit with the fact that I was missing out on beautiful, beautiful basketball. I watched the Mavericks series with a light spirit and was luckily on vacation with my wife and didn't see the Vinsanity buzzer beater. Then, for whatever reason in the Spurs lone loss against Portland, I lost it. I felt like they were doing it again. And I was feeling the pressure once again that in order to enjoy sports ever again, the Tim and Pop era must win one more.
I was locked into full Spurs guy mode come OKC. We moved back to Austin and I went to game one. Then during game 3 anger welled up in my soul. It was all going to be a big sham again like 2012 and 2013.** Nevertheless, I was devouring content, even read SpursTalk once or twice. I was so invested. Then Pop, old KGB hunting Pop, said something in a press conference that changed my outlook on sports forever.
What was that, Pop? "It's basketball." Are you serious? I thought. You just freaking got trounced by the Thunder and Ibaka is back. Then I realized...he's over game six. And I'm not. I'm not even over what I told myself on Halloween 2012. The COACH of the Spurs, who made a mistake in Game 6 and saw his team fumble away a title is over it. And me? I'm acting like I can't recover. When the people who actually lived through game six seem to be actively fighting against it. Whereas it was causing me to not be able to enjoy sports anymore.
It didn't matter if they lost again, because it wasn't going to satisfy me even if they won and it shouldn't be able to rob my joy if they lost. Because it clearly hadn't robbed the Spurs. In Game 6 against OKC I finally was able to watch with pure eyes and see the beauty in which they were playing and I realized I missed a whole season of THIS. I missed a season of redemption and resurrection all because I had told myself on Halloween 2012 that I needed something from the Spurs.
I was able to finally take them in during The Finals. I appreciated the team that I have loved very selfishly since I was 9. I saw the way they wanted redemption for last year, but didn't let it overtake them. I saw how they put together an almost perfect team. I saw closing of careers on high notes and beginning of careers soaring sky highs. I saw a group of players be a great example of community.
No Erler, I didn't see a stupid sports movie. I just saw beautiful basketball. I saw an amazing team, with amazing leadership and selflessness. I also saw my stupidity in thinking it could satisfy me. I saw the ignorance in thinking my "relationship" with the Spurs could be capped. How do you cap something that you've loved since you were nine? You can't. The Spurs, with all their faults will always be something I am interested in.
I heard Pop's words while driving to Academy in San Marcos, covered in champagne and Spurnt up about the championship, (yeah had a champagne party and yeah I said SPURNT)
It changes nothing. It's simply something great and fun we get to experience. Something beautiful we get to watch. Something awesome I have gotten to experience with my dad around Fathers Day at ages 9, 13, 15, 17 and 24. It doesn't give anyone a pass to not focus on their own identity. I still have to get up and love my wife, I still have to work hard.
Now, I'm going to write, I am going to watch every game next season. I am not going to miss out on this beauty once again. Following a team is a journey with low valleys and high peaks. The stories from both make it worth it. Would being a Spurs fan be as great if it wasn't for
Satan Derek Fisher? Probably not.
Thus concludes the journey of an over invested fan.
*That Game 2 against OKC doesn't even seem impressive anymore. That was merely the beginning of the offensive machine we now know.
**By the way, though I hardly watched all season, I knew we were going to win it all. I called it before the season. Predicted the outcome of the Portland, OKC and Miami series accurately. I might have been distant, but I know the Spurs. I was stick to my stomach, but I believed.