There is something about reading a really great novel--or in this Golden Age of television, watching a really great show (who schedules a Finals game during the Game of Thrones Finale?)--and seeing a story unfold perfectly. Seeing something so well thought out and then executed, that it connects and resonates on every level. Something to the dramatic perfection that the Spurs would come back to avenge last year's loss to win their fifth NBA title on Father’s Day 2014. It just works on all fronts.
For the figurative: Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and professional sports’ longest tenured coach all teamed up to, again, beat father time.
For the symbolic: Kawhi winning the Finals MVP on Father’s Day, after losing his father just before his basketball career took off.
For the romantic: That enduring image of Duncan holding and kissing his kids, juxtaposed perfectly with Jordan holding his first trophy (in both you see what drives them, not that one is any better or worse than the other). Especially allergy-inducing when considering his issues this off-season.
For the San Antonian: Memories of going to Academy with dad, no matter how far past bed time it is, to stand in line for championship gear. (Or maybe you were that lucky kid who got to go downtown and honk. I wasn't brazen enough to even ask my parents THAT. You wouldn't get home until like 6 am).
For the snarky: The Spurs play "dad basketball," spacing properly, setting screens, knocking down jumpers, and laying it in instead of dunking (gotta ignore that dunk by Manu in the second quarter for this to work). Like the 50 year-old who simply outclasses all the kids at the gym on his lunch break.
(But maybe it's not a dramatic conclusion on every level …LeBron’s son still isn’t quite old enough to grasp the reality that fathers are human too.)
But more than any one specific parallel, this is perfect because the Spurs are like a family, and Pop, the Patriarch.
When Gregg Popovich took over the Spurs in 1996, he was like most fathers; unequipped, well-intentioned, and determined not to screw it up. With his team, he grew. Yes, Popovich is a (basketball…but also real-life) genius, but you’d be remiss to think he just started out that way. Like any good parent, he worked hard at it, picked brains and studied to ensure that he’d be a part of creating something bigger than himself.
And then two years into it, he went and did something ridiculous. The guy from Pomona-Pfitzer won an NBA championship. And then he won a lot of games. A LOT of games. An historical number of games (this may be where we start to notice he is not exactly like just ANY father). And three more championships. And somewhere in that span, he became one of the all-time greats.
But to his team he was still just Pop.
The father-figure relationship can be seen from the hundreds of NBA clips that have been devoted to Pop coaching Tony over the years, taking him to the side, putting an arm around him, telling him he can do better. Or berating him wildly, followed by a gentle tap on the back that says, "Go out there and do it better, because we both know you can."
You see it when he yells at a living legend that is already called the greatest to ever play at his particular position.
You literally can hear it when Pop is asked about private team matters, such as his conversation with Kawhi Leonard before his Game 3 ascension. "Well, you know a lot of that is family business."
Down to the man, you will not find a former player who doesn't idolize him (well, maybe Rodman, but he's just the exception that proves the rule). His entire coaching tree—which has branches that now shade most of the NBA—glows about him. Analysts Steve Kerr and Bruce Bowen have spent ample airtime waxing poetic over Pop. Even Stephen Jackson, the prodigal son, lost-and-returned, praised Pop after his initial resentment for being waived had faded.
And today, basking in glory only moments after winning, the first words out of the mouth of Duncan (the eldest brother in Pop’s family business) in response to how they got there again: "Great coaching. He inspires. He brings it every year…it’s his passion."
In case you hadn't guessed, the "he" is Pop. From Popovich, to Coach Pop, to Pop, to "he." Everyone knows who looms over it all; there is no need for clarification.
It seems especially apt because thousands of "Pops" won on Father’s Day, if for no other reason than because they got to pick where the family ate after church for a change. And maybe they got to hear how great they are and how much they are appreciated. And just like Popovich, even if they act like they hate it; it makes their day to hear you say it.
It is the idyllic storybook ending that the old, surly, jokester of a coach, enjoying himself too much to hang it just up yet, watched his players—his family—celebrating with their respective families. And as he watched Duncan pull his kids tight and close his eyes, the pride and joy of a father (and grandfather) must’ve surely washed over him, with the reality of "this is too perfect " sinking in.
As I watched it all from my couch in my living room, I couldn't help but think of my own father. Would I be feeling the utter ecstasy of this championship had he not coached my little league basketball teams? I surely learned a love for the game and the value of winning from those days. I also learned what it meant to be a man of character, honor, and dedication.
That’s what makes this championship so special. It was just Popovich, coaching his kids in a youth league. Last year they lost. This year they won. But it’s just basketball.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that what a dad is supposed to say?