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RandBall: Slowly learning to appreciate the Spurs

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • June 11, 2014 - 8:36 AM

The Timberwolves played the Spurs in the first round of the 1999 Western Conference playoffs. That was the (first) labor-shortened regular season, with just 50 games on the docket. The Wolves, betrayed by Stephon Marbury, had acquiesced and traded the dynamic point guard for the efficiency of Terrell Brandon. They were 12-6 at the time of the trade. They limped into the playoffs at 25-25, stole Game 2 in San Antonio and brought the series back to Minnesota tied 1-1 and into a frenzied Target Center.

OK, maybe it wasn't frenzied. Maybe we were just frenzied. We were 22, we were still mad about the Marbury trade, and we were ALREADY tired of this boring, choke-the-life-out-of-you Tim Duncan-led Spurs team. We were sitting in the upper deck, the cheap seats, for Game 3. We don't remember the exact play, but something happened with Malik Rose, a Spurs reserve. Might have been a cheap shot. Might have been a basket. But the game was slipping away, and these stupid boring Spurs needed to be stopped. We stood up and yelled, at the top of our lungs, the worst swear, directed at Malik Rose. [Redacted] you. Yes, you. It was very loud. About three seconds later, sheepishly, we sat down, and tried to blame it on our friend Rocket whenever an upset fan/parent looked our way. Whatever. Those Spurs needed to be stopped, and if the Wolves weren't going to do it, we were. As it turns out, nobody stopped them. That was the first of their four championship seasons.

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That was 15 years ago. FIFTEEN. For most of those next 15 years, we continued to quietly seethe at the Spurs as they piled up win after win. They were still boring, and they still needed to be stopped. We took glee when they struggled, even writing one year about their alleged demise. We can't find the article or post in the archives, but it's just as well. It was years ago, and the words surely look ridiculous now as their demise was greatly exaggerated. They have won at least 50 games every year since we shouted at M. Rose. They are doing just fine, and they never change.

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From the collusion that brought the Big Three together and helped LeBron win a pair of shortcut championships to the casual arrogance of a less-than-engaged fan base, the Heat as currently constructed have given us fits from the moment they were assembled. But if we watched last year's Finals casually with an "anyone but Miami" rooting interest, it has turned instead now to the most curious thing: a love affair with the Spurs and the way they play basketball.

The Spurs have not changed. If there is a greater example of an unflinching, successful operation in pro sports in the same time frame, we cannot think of it. We're still about six months apart in age from Duncan, and the guy is still in this league, still doing what he does. His cast of characters changes, but it stays the same, too. It's really quite breathtaking.

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We have changed. We are the person David Roth wrote about a couple weeks back:

There's something strange in realizing that the Spurs are not just great, but quietly great fun to watch as well. It's something like finding out that you suddenly like Steely Dan after years of not only not liking Steely Dan, but defining yourself as the sort of person who does not like Steely Dan and in fact does not even like other people that like Steely Dan. ... The Spurs have not changed, and that is the essence of what makes and keeps them great. They have found a way to do things that work well and maintained the humility to work that way for a shared end. For all the reasons we might watch a game, this more modest transcendence -- individuals into a whole, faith in a process made legible and even beautiful -- is not nearly the most vivid. We aspire to uncommon grace and force and poise, we aspire to flight..

This works on so many levels, except that we've always liked Steely Dan's melodic pop hooks.

But this thought: Oh no, are we old? Are we reelin’ in the years, stowin’ away the time? Older, sure, but that's not quite it.

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Then it hit us: it's fatherhood. That's the biggest thing that has changed, and that's the biggest thing that can change. We're only 10 weeks into it, but there is something about trying to clean up pee, poop and spit-up at the same time that will make you appreciate San Antonio's relentless teamwork. There is something about the notion of family that will make you appreciate the Spurs' unflinching consistency. And there is something about 10 tiny fingers and toes that will make you appreciate the beauty of the smallest details.

The same person who disliked the boring Spurs for so long and would swear at Malik Rose is now rooting for them to win instead of rooting for Miami to lose.

Then again, when are we ever the same person?

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