When I was growing up, I despised the San Antonio Spurs.
To me, they were a boring team to watch, and their biggest stars often seemed to be personality-less blowhards. I couldn’t stand David Robinson or Tim Duncan, two big oafs who lulled me to sleep with their phenomenal basketball IQ and grasp of the game’s fundamentals. Come playoff time, I would always cheer against them, especially when they were caught in a showdown with my boy Steve Nash, whether he was with the Dallas Mavericks or the Phoenix Suns at the time. I’m pretty sure I even rooted for the Los Angeles Lakers to beat them during the Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal douche-bag dynasty. The first time I can recall cheering for them was during the 2013 NBA finals, when they lost in seven games to the Miami Heat. Even then, it was like I was cheering for the lesser of two evils.
But this year, something happened: I came to the conclusion that I’ve been cheering for — and hating on — certain teams for all of the wrong reasons. (This should’ve dawned on me years ago, when I snapped out of the hypnosis I was under where I actually wanted to BE Allen Iverson, down to the braided hair and spandex skullcaps, despite the fact he’s a mostly terrible human being.)
I can’t remember a time when I was more entertained by a team than I was by the Spurs when, in June, they dominated the Miami Heat, taking the Spurs’ fifth championship since 1999. The squad didn’t play perfect basketball, but it’s impossible to play perfect basketball. They did, however, play about as close to perfect in every aspect as I’ve ever seen a team play.
The thing about the Spurs is that they’re an actual team.
This contrasts with the Miami Heat, who rely on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh for the vast majority of their success. None of these three dudes are particularly big on fundamentals, or hustle, or team work. And when one of them doesn’t show up (like Wade, who played embarrassingly bad in the finals this year), the team’s infrastructure crumbles. It also seems as though they do whatever they want, that head coach Erik Spoelstra is just kind of there to provide suggestions that “The Big Three” can follow if they choose to, and to take orders from general manager and slick-haired a**hole Pat Reilly.
The Spurs are, without question, run completely by general manager AND head coach Greg Popovich, one of the most brilliant basketball minds of all time, who won’t take shit from anybody. Pop’s offensive system is amazing, distributed to the point of near-socialism, and unfathomably effective. Like Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, Popovich runs a system that makes players way more successful playing for the Spurs than they would be elsewhere. Their ball movement is unparalleled by any other team in the league, and everyone hustles all of the time, lest they get the hook and the hose from Pop, who is nothing if not intimidating.
To top it off, the Spurs’ three stalwarts — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili — are all lovable, everyman goobers. They don’t behave like they’re elite NBA players, and that’s very, very refreshing.
A lot of kids growing up idolize people like James and cheer for teams like the Heat, because they are very fun to watch, and their wild way of executing can be successful (I mean, they did win back-to-back championships; that can’t be discounted), but if they really want to learn the game and get better at it, they should study the San Antonio Spurs. Basketball is a beautiful game, and the Spurs are able to encapsulate the all-around beauty and complexity of it, instead of the shocking, Top-Ten plays you often see from James and Wade. (Though Manu Ginobili’s dunk in game five was on par with anything those two did all season.)
Your typical kid playing ball in high school is not going to be able to mimic the phenomenal moves these hyper-athletic professionals make and, to be realistic, the staggering majority will never play on that level anyway. It’s tough just to make it to Division III college ball, to be honest.
But they can learn the fundamentals of the game, and the best practices. This will take them a lot further than adoration of a few undisciplined players who rely on natural talent almost as much as they ondo hard work.