One of you, a skinny kid with shoulders like carved wood, is being tugged into a locker room full of cheering teammates and champagne bubbles, tugged in front of microphones, tugged onto a stage. Tugged relentlessly forward, along with his teammates, along with every one of us. Ahead, a future too bright to see clearly. Behind, the fires that still burn in the wake of this conquering army.
Pause for a moment, here between the light and the heat. Here, between where-you-came-from and where-you’re-going. Stop and ask: where are you right now, in this moment?
You are where you come from.
You come from nine different countries. You come from the smallest of three NBA towns in a state that prefers football. You come from fifteen straight seasons of fifty or more wins, a decade and a half without missing the Playoffs.
You come from a time that only you can remember. This year’s Playoffs saw Tim Duncan face off against two players he faced in his first All Star Game – first Vince Carter, then Ray Allen. He may have sent Allen into retirement, where he would join 19 of the 23 other men who shared the court with Duncan in that game. Bryant may be finished too. Garnett seems to be. Timmy averaged 15/10 in 33mpg while anchoring the defense for the most thorough beatdown of a defending champion in NBA history.
You come from a history that is unmatched and unrivaled. Gregg Popovich owns more than half of the championship rings that have been won by active NBA coaches. Besides Pop, only eight active coaches have won more playoff games than they have lost; if you add those winning coaches’ records together they have 55 net playoff victories. Pop has 59.
You are where you are going, too. Where is that? The answer is the same as it has always been, in all the years the world has been asking: You aren’t going anywhere. Every championship team has its obituary written before they’ve finished sweeping up the confetti, but the hinges on the door of San Antonio’s tomb are remarkably well oiled. You will carry on. You will change where you must, you will turn weakness into strength, you will adapt, you will persevere, and you will succeed. You always do.
The question is not who or what you will be when you embark on your next campaign, but who or what will be there to face you when you arrive. That is a question that remains unsettled. A lot can change in an off-season, and these playoffs have shown you the shape of things to come:
There is a team in Dallas. It was a great team once; it could become a great team again. This year it drove you to the edge of a precipice and forced you to fall or fly. You flew. How very, very far you flew. When you land, they will be waiting.
There is a team in Portland. A team that has always punched above its weight, a team that has put on fresh muscle as of late, a team that looks to leave bruises next season. You left them on the mat this year, but you didn’t end them – you made them stronger. Smarter. You taught them how an old warrior fights. It’s a lesson you may regret.
There is a team in Oklahoma City. You will meet them again. They will be ready.
There is a team in Miami. Enough.
The season is over, but you have not reached any conclusion. There will be rematches, rubber matches, victories, and heartbreaks. The spotlight will move; someone will step into it, someone will step out. This season is over. Another ring. Another banner. But no finish line. Not ever.
The rock never splits, because if it did you would stop pounding. And you never stop pounding the rock. You did great work this year, but greatness is not something that is done. It is something that's become.
It's not something you do. It's something you live into.
Something that's inhabited moment by moment.
Something that you are.
Go, Spurs. Go.