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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Thunder

Marathons and mediocrity

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, neighbor!

I know I just knocked on your door in the middle of the afternoon three days after Christmas, but I was just wondering if you could spare a few minutes to talk about last night’s game?

Great! There are so many things we could talk about.

We could talk about Devin Vassell’s wild seesaw game-to-game variance in shooting this season. You know, when he suddenly goes from shooting 55% to 35% and then back again? That’s pretty wild if you ask me.

Or we could talk about how Mark Daigneault briefly decided to let a man who looks like a low-rent combination of the Cryptkeeper and the Slender Man protect the rim against the Spurs, before he somewhat predictably went down with an injury.

We could talk about how Charles Bassey is no longer getting any real playing time, which while not totally surprising, was odd on a night that Zach Collins and Jakob Poeltl were struggling with newly-anointed Spurs-Killer, Mike Muscala.

We could definitely have a long conversation about the quality of officiating in last night’s game, that’s for certain.

But I’d like to take just a moment to talk about the 1904 Olympic Marathon.

That the 1904 Olympics were being held in St. Louis was already a result of great controversy. The Olympics had actually been awarded to Chicago, but the organizers of the 1904 St. Louis World Fair (somewhat understandably) were unhappy with the idea of a competing major international event, and (somewhat less understandably) threatened to put on a whole host of competing athletic events if they were not also awarded the Olympics.

The last minute change of venue, difficulties traveling to the more centrally located (and less appealing) state of Missouri, and tensions from the newly-minted Russo-Japanese War combined to make the 1904 Olympics the least attended (and competed in) modern Olympiad.

That this was the first Olympics hosted outside of Europe, and by the United States, only exacerbated matters, with only 62 of the athletes that competed coming from outside of North America. Which is how 1904 Men’s Olympic Marathon ended up with only 32 entrants. (A large number of whom were recruited at the last minute.)

Making matters even worse was that the event itself had been largely organized by James Edward Sullivan, whose legacy achievements include attempting to organize a human zoo to showcase supposed theories of athletic ability differences between races, and barring American female athletes from competing in the The 1912 Summer Olympics.

Predictably, Sullivan found a way to foul this event up as well, in the name of science.

Having decided that he would like to study the affects of purposeful dehydration on athletes, Sullivan decided to hold the marathon at 3pm in the afternoon in August, and allowed for only one water station to be set up, halfway through the course.

And so, on August 30th, 1904, the Olympic Marathon was held, in 90 degree heat, on uncleared dirt roads, and the results were about as awful as one might expect.

The winners of the 1902 and 1903 Boston Marathons, dropped out after 16 and 10 miles respectively.

The 4th place finisher, a badly equipped Cuban Postman named Andarín Carvajal, stopped to take a nap due to a mixture of exhaustion and the consumption of bad apples before getting back up to complete the race.

The winner, Thomas Hicks, began to hallucinate roughly ten miles from the finish line, and in lieu of water, was given strychnine mixed with brandy and egg whites. His winning time was almost 30 minutes slower than the winning time of the 1900 Summer Olympics, and remains the record for the slowest Olympic Marathon victory.

All-in-all only 14 of the 32 entrants finished the race; three of whom nearly died.

And yet, there’s little historical doubt that most of the competitors in this event were in fact trying to win. Through some mixture of organizational, circumstantial, and ‘scientific’ malfeasance, they found themselves eternally cast as characters in a tale of competitive disaster.

However, these were the gold standards of scientific and athletic reasoning of the time, and were no doubt argued for with the lofty detachment and intellectual superiority that only first-rate knowledge can supply.

It’s good to know that we’ve advanced beyond such absurdity.


  • It’s been quite a run for Jeremy Sochan over the last two weeks, as he continues to find ways to contribute all over the stat sheet. Already capable of guarding almost any player, and switching to any assignment, Sochan continues to contribute in many of the least sexy ways, while deservedly earning himself a reputation as an irritant for other teams, all without fouling out (or even getting close). With his playing time hovering around 25 minutes per game, there looks to be a good chance that he’ll be the first Spurs rookie to surpass Kawhi Leonard in total minutes played, and an outside chance that he’ll be the 1st Spurs rookie to surpass 2000 minutes in season since Tony Parker in 2001. While his shot may not be the prettiest, it’s clear that it’s being actively reworked, so just sit back and enjoy what looks to be the beginning of a promising career. This isn’t something you get to see every day, even in San Antonio.
  • As much as I like Josh Richardson and appreciate his veteran presence, he’s really been struggling with his shot this year. He’s shooting 39% from the floor over the last 10 games, which is way less than ideal whether you’re rooting for the Spurs to win, or for Richardson to become a valuable trade asset. Just as problematically, his defense ratings has cratered as well this season, soaring to a very unsightly 121, which makes his usage concerning if winning is the sort of the thing that PATFO are actually interested in doing. Fond as I am of him, Richardson needs to spend a little more time on the bench right now. Last night was ugly.
  • It’s also concerning to see Jakob Poeltl looking as immobile as he has as of late. It’s subtle, but also a big part of why the Spurs were soundly exploited by Muscala, who’s one of the better big men in the league at hitting the long-ball when he gets hot. It’s easy to believe that Jakob’s knee might still be giving him some issues, and if so, it’s hard to argue that he should be seeing much time on the court until it heals fully. In any case, this hardly seems like the kind of season to have him grit his way through it.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Everything is Wrong by Interpol

If you’d like to read/hear more about how truly insane the 1904 Men’s Olympic Marathon was, this video is a great (and highly accurate) record of the disaster. Coincidentally, it was also published by SBNation.