Someone once asked New York Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio how he was able to play hard over the long slog of a 162 game schedule. Joe D. responded that there may be an 11 year boy in the stands who had never been to a Yankee game, and he was playing hard for that boy. Saturday night in San Antonio, I was that 11 year old boy (if we add several decades).
I have lived in Los Angeles since 1978, and have never been to San Antonio before this past weekend. In January of this year, I realized that I have been a Spurs fan for years, but that I have never seen Tim Duncan or my man Manu play a home game. I decided that I needed to see a Spurs home game, this season, because "you never know" if next year would be too late. I set it up for this past Saturday night, thinking that getting tickets for a game against the Sacramento Kings would be easier than the next home Saturday game against OKC. So I bought the tickets, booked the flights and reserved a room in Austin for Friday night (hadn't been there either) and on the Riverwalk Saturday night.
Unfortunately for me, and more so for Manu, he suffered the injury that will not be named, in between my planning of the trip and my planned arrival. I consoled myself with the fact the TD would surely play, since the Spurs did not have a game Friday or Sunday. The trip remained "on".
Friday night in Austin, my lovely bride Linda and I met up with PtR czar J.R. Wilco and the enchanting and talented Mrs. Wilco for some real Texas BBQ and Spurs hoops talk. Which was outstanding -- the BBQ and the conversation. Luckily, our brides let J.R. and I talk endlessly about the LaMarcus Aldridge transition into a real Spur, the Manu game from the 2013 playoffs, whether we signed Andre Miller to keep him from solving the Thunder late game collapses, and what we liked most about Kawhi. As music to my ears, J.R. told me that Manu was listed as "probable" for Saturday night.
Saturday night took too long to arrive, but it did. Leaving our hotel, we ran into two lovely ladies who were also going to the game. One lived in LA, the other New York, and they had been friends since elementary school -- and they were meeting in San Antonio. Like me, they were going to their first Spurs game. They were calling a taxi, but I had my rental car. And they had something I did not -- their tickets to the game came with a parking pass! Capitalism kicked in, and they saved the money and hassle of a taxi ride, and we all had the benefit of a Spurs parking pass.
Arriving at AT&T Center, Linda and I were amazed that the Spurs had a live concert outside, both before and after the game. Walking into the Center, and throughout the game, it was great to see the percentage of the fans wearing Spurs gear.
At Laker games, you see some Kobe #24s (along with some uniforms from the visiting team), but most come to the game dressed for Hollywood, not the game. At the Spurs home game, well over half of the crowd was in Spurs gear (including this writer in my #20 Ginobili). In the stands, I saw virtually every present Spur uniform, along with past Spurs Gervin, Horry (my favorite Laker), and -- of course -- Robinson #50. Linda pointed out several dads with young daughters in (age-appropriate) cheerleader outfits. For my first Spurs game, it was great to see all the Silver and Black. I felt like I had arrived home.
When we arrived at our seats, my eyes went to the Spurs end of the court. As J.R. predicted, there was Manu, geared up (with a cup) and ready to play. As they say, there was much rejoicing -- until the starting line-ups were introduced. At center, Boris Diaw. At power forward, not the greatest of all time. Only then did I realize that Pop had decided that TD would look better this evening in his civilian clothes, not #21. So while I had been granted Manu, TD had been taken away. In some ways more dangerous, Danny Green was not playing. The starting line-up of the Oui Frenchman, Diaw, David West, Kawhi, and Jonathan Simmons was one that could conceivably lose to the Sacramento Kings. Especially because much of the Spurs vaunted bench squad was for tonight starting, and thus not on the bench to be the bench squad.
How ironic would it be that my pilgrimage to the Basketball Mecca would wind up with the Spurs losing at home for the first time this season? In the second quarter, the Kings came back and tied the game at 41 with 4 minutes left in the half -- and I really thought my visit had jinxed the Spurs. Luckily, (spoiler alert) the Kings remained the Kings and I did not jinx the home team.
A quick aside: One of the reasons to attend a game live instead of watching on television is that you can see things not shown on TV. Saturday night, a tall red-headed white guy with a red beard, and wearing a Bonner Spurs #15 was sitting courtside. At halftime, this faux Matt Bonner and the real Matt Bonner spoke at length. The Spurs Bonner #15 then started the second half. Those two facts gave me a chill. The Spurs fan wearing the Bonner shirt in the front row was the Red Rocket's brother Lucas. The Red Rocket then started the second half. These two facts (and the upcoming signing of Kevin Martin) told me that Saturday may be Matt's last game as a Spur, and perhaps the NBA. By the way -- he played great. We sometimes forget that when players get traded, or worse, waived, these are regular people, though with special and amazing skills. Just as I had to tell college kids that they had not made the team, NBA coaches and GMs have to tell players that they are no longer good enough, and have been replaced. That conversation may have just happened to the Red Rocket -- which made me think that his brother Lucas was there with him Saturday night.
(Turns out it wasn't his brother after all.)
In the second half, the Spurs pulled away, and despite some sloppy play, finished the deal. As has been reported elsewhere at PtR, Manu was great, amazing, tremendous, in his first game back from the injury that will not be named. Indeed, this was yet another Manu Game. And I was there to see it. In my own Manu shirt. And, when the game had ended, and I had seen my Spurs win -- at home -- there was much rejoicing: