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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Rockets

The things we find in the storm

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll never forget visiting East Texas after Hurricane Ike.

Visiting my relatives in the golden triangle of Jefferson County, Texas, we were all relieved that the levies in nearby Port Arthur had held in spite of a vicious storm surge, but I was awestruck by the amount of damage the gale-force winds alone had done.

My grandparents’ retirement asset, an aging trailer-park, looked as if the hand of some almighty deity had reached down and played with the resident mobile homes and RVs like they were children’s toys. What else could have thrown them with such force?

But it’s the story of one of the relatively intact modular homes that I’ll never be able to stop telling.

Located near the back-middle of the park, one of the trailers had ever so slightly curled itself around a tree. For whatever reason, be it the relative shelter of the location, the individual sturdiness of the building, or just dumb luck, it had stayed that way throughout the storm; the tree somehow preventing it from being tossed or torn in two.

It was one of the only trailers still standing, and had somehow also managed to avoid the significant water damage that marked the others; the only indicators of its misfortune being the warp of the building around the tree, and a long, thin tear located at the middle of mobile home, facing out.

Fascinated by the building I walked closer to peer into the gap that opened the kitchen to outside view. And that was when I saw him. Mustachioed and clad in overalls, and peering into a copy of the local newspaper, sat one of the park’s tenants, calmly eating breakfast and enjoying his morning coffee.

And that’s how, in spite of everything I had been taught about the rudeness of staring at people, I found myself standing there (with what must have been a very confused look on my face), watching this man eat his morning meal.

It didn’t take long for him notice that he was being watched. Feeling my eyes on him, he looked slowly upward, met my gaze, and raised his cup of coffee in a moment of silent acknowledgment.

My grandfather was there behind me in a flash. Leaning into the gap he apologized to the man whose name I’ve long since forgotten, and they exchanged warm pleasantries for a few minutes before we walked away, and I began receiving my inevitable (but gentle) reprimand.

A few minutes later, standing next to the wreckage of a different building, I heard the door of that other trailer slam behind me. Having finished his breakfast, the grizzled and denim-clad man walked out to his truck, climbed inside, and drove off to work.

The refineries almost never shut down, my grandfather explained, himself a veteran of the industry. And since there was nothing the man could do but wait on his insurance claim, it made sense to keep on working, and living in his mobile home.

“That’s still plenty livable.”, my grandfather opined. “Cheaper than a hotel in any case, and the weather’s cooling off a bit too.”

His words and voice stirred in my memory as I watched Devin Vassell and company go to work against the similarly woeful Houston Rockets last night.

Quietly finishing his night with 26 points on a cool 58/62/100 slash-line, Vassell looked like a man completely unconcerned with the state of the franchise, NBA standings, and the variety of conversations surrounding the nature and legitimacy of the San Antonio Spurs’ November struggles.

With numerous injuries afflicting the team on what seems to be a nightly basis, the off-season trade of the onetime face of San Antonio’s youth movement, and a legion of fans clamoring for the siren song of ping-pong balls, Devin Vassell put his head down, and went right to work; looking every bit as sedate as that shift-worker’s meal in the wreckage.

It’s no surprise that his teammates conducted themselves in the same way. Crisis has a way of bringing something out in leaders, and ever so subtly, Vassell has become one.

I had the very good fortune of being seated just shy of court-side behind the bench during last week’s Portland game, and I watched as Vassell stood up to console Charles Bassey in the midst of a rough outing, to commune with Keldon Johnson as he dealt with a difficult match-up in Jerami Grant, to encourage Tre Jones in spite of a hellacious challenge in dealing with Damien Lillard.

It’s been 14 years since that day in the trailer park, and I don’t remember the clean-up, I don’t remember the rest of the wreckage, I don’t remember the names of most of the people who helped us. But I remember every crease in that stranger’s face.

It’s funny the things we decide to carry with us, even subconsciously. He lives forever in my memory as the calm in the wake of the hurricane.

But I’m starting to get the feeling that Devin Vassell’s going to live there too.


  • While I’m not terribly familiar with Stanley Johnson’s body of work since his days in Detroit, I have to admit that he was a revelation in a Keldon Johnson lite role off of the bench, running right to the rim in spite of defenders, and dropping threes when they sagged off of him. But it was his passing touch in particular that interested me. Secondary creation has been an issue for the Spurs for a while now, but Johnson was zipping the ball around as if he’d been playing in the Spurs offense his entire career. I don’t know how well his offensive style will play in the long run, since he’s been shooting considerably better than his career marks so far (55/50 vs. 38/30), but if he can continue to offer himself as that kind of passing outlet, he’ll almost certainly find a way to stick in the Alamo City.
  • The entire bench was deserving of love on a night where the starters scuffled a little in the 2nd quarter. Jeremy Sochan had one of his better outings of the season as he was seemingly everywhere in this one, and Zach Collins and Doug McDermott played with an admirable degree of efficiency. But it was Malaki Branham who impressed me most, as he spent most of the evening harassing every player he matched up with to a degree that his two steals don’t really indicate. He’s had two really solid games in a row now, and it looks like he might be starting to find his stride. I’m hoping so, because the Spurs could really use his defense.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season by Jimmy Buffett