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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Rockets

Basketball, Buddhism, and Lottery Balls.

NBA: Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

According to The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, unfulfilled expectations are the root of all suffering. I would like to submit that this theory of suffering omits the scenario in which suffering is the expectation.

And I think I speak for number of San Antonio Spurs fans when I say that suffering has certainly been the expectation during a stretch in which the Spurs lost 16 of the last 18 contests, and 11 of those in a row.

It was the first time the Spurs had lost that many games in a row since the year I was born. Two more would have given them a tie for the all-time San Antonio losing-streak record.

And it wasn’t just the losing that made watching those games miserable, it was the way they were losing those games: extended bench terms for minor injuries, inexplicably bad defense, and rotations that more resembled the work of one Darrell Kurt Rambis than Gregg Charles Popovich.

After some time, that sort of thing can make you start to question the nature of your own reality.

Many years ago I made the mistake of watching professional wrestling with a friend. And to be clear, I have nothing but respect for the craft involved, nor am I denigrating the people who do enjoy it, but professional wrestling temporarily warped my appreciation of competitive sports.

The problem (for me) is that professional wrestling is a dramatic production masquerading as a sport, and that makes it challenging for me to separate the two things.

For context, I grew up in a family of competitive wrestlers. From an early age I sparred with my father and uncles on the floors of various living rooms. So to watch individuals purposefully missing their best opportunities and artfully failing to press their competitive advantages makes my brain explode.

For weeks after watching one evening of pro wrestling, if an NBA player missed a layup or dropped an easy catch I couldn’t help but feel suspicious about their motives. It didn’t matter that I knew the difference between the two, part of my stupid animal brain remained unconvinced.

So it probably comes as little surprise that I had difficultly enjoying the Spurs victory over the Rockets (something that had previously been one of my great pleasures, regardless of how good or bad a year the Spurs were having) after weeks of having seen too much of how the sausage was made. Perhaps I was not the only one.

Because as it turns out Siddhartha got that one part wrong. The fulfillment of expected suffering is still suffering. And an expectation of suffering unfulfilled should result in a lack of suffering.

Except that it’s very hard to enjoy a lack of suffering when it comes at the expense of watching your opponent repeatedly miss dunks and what would otherwise be guaranteed points.

I don’t blame the Buddha though. The NBA didn’t exist at the time. I’m sure he would have made an exception if it had.


  • After a long dry spell that appeared to be getting in Keldon’s Johnson’s head even more than it was Spurs fans, Johnson broke back out in a spectacular way on a night in which he shot just shy of 70% from the floor and 50% from three, to the tune of 32 points and 7 rebounds. But something that might have been missed was how methodical a progression Keldon made as the night went on. Starting around the rim in the 1st quarter, Keldon slowly worked his way out from the restricted area, into the mid-range, until he was effortlessly canning threes by the end of the night. I can almost guarantee that this was something specifically schemed by a member/s of the coaching staff, something that’s nice to see in a year that would otherwise testify to ineptitude for most coaching groups. The lights might not be on right now, but it’s clear in little ways like this that someone’s still home.
  • Normally this would be my space to say something nice about Tre Jones. And to be clear, he definitely deserved it on a night that he went for 26 points and 5 assists on a very efficient 62% shooting, but I feel I have to single out Zach Collins for the willingness to sacrifice his body and his absolute refusal to give anything less than 100% in a season that is almost certainly lost. It’s a real pity that his body hasn’t always been able to support his play-style. But his passion combined with his offensive efficiency and defensive activity make him someone the Spurs should appreciate for years to come.

Playing You Out – The Theme Song of the Evening:

Time To Pretend by MGMT