It’s been a few days, and plenty are still consuming all the commentary about where both the new champion San Antonio Spurs and the somewhat reeling Miami Heat stand after a five-game NBA Finals. It continues for many reasons that range from our need to predict an unknown future to likely a greater need to attempt to fill the void until either free agency or the next season begins.
The most notable string of commentary has been this celebration of selflessness and teamwork displayed by the champion Spurs. The effusive praise from noted beat writers, jaded columnists and fans alike is well-earned. After all, the greatest compliment for the winning team is that it becomes the ideal template for the league going into next year. Some observers have been quick to say that we’re in a society that rewards individualism and self-promotion, therefore what San Antonio has accomplished should be lauded. It would be all well and good if a good chunk of these props didn’t come at the expense of, or rather the joy of, demeaning LeBron James and the Heat once again.
If you knew nothing about basketball before this past Sunday night, you’d swear that the Spurs were the first team to have ever won the championship in the near seven decades the NBA has existed.
It’s great to note that their “Big 3″ of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili took less money compared to what they would have received in the open market over the years. Yet, there have also been plenty of accounts that beat the drum of selflessness vs. selfishness, and the two words have become predictable labels and indictments of varied teams around the NBA.
Let’s put down the caveats of what makes a championship team for once and break the “narrative.” All credit is rightfully due for San Antonio because beyond the “play as a team” rhetoric people casually espouse, the Spurs also happen to have very talented individual players. The way “the system” is discussed makes it seem as if these are nothing but “plug and play,” fourth-rate players. And while the system of selflessness helped give life to once-discarded players like Danny Green and Patty Mills, it also works beautifully when there are actual skilled players such as Kawhi Leonard, Marco Belinelli, Tiago Splitter and a motivated Boris Diaw.
Indulge this Scribe for a moment, and let’s just say the Spurs beat the Indiana Pacers — a secondary target of our vitriol during this season — instead of the Heat. Do you honestly believe that there would be as much conversation about San Antonio’s “selflessness” when the Pacers received some measures of the same praise in the last three seasons?
Absolutely not, and you know it.
The Spurs have always been a capital-T “TEAM” in the Duncan era and certainly have been one since the battle of “TEAM vs. TEAM” in 2005 between them and the Detroit Pistons that a ton of us didn’t even watch. They were every bit of a team in losing last year’s NBA Finals, two Western Conference Finals, the 2010 Western Semis and two first-round series after their 2007 title win over the LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers. They were a team two years ago when Duncan looked older and people wondered aloud if he would retire. They were a team last year when Ginobili looked like he should be tethered to the bench and young guns like Leonard and Green struggled away from the AT&T Center. And if they defeated another carefully labeled “TEAM” like Indiana or Chicago (especially after the season the Bulls had) instead of Miami this past Sunday, it would be a safe bet that we wouldn’t see the “TEAM” aspect being thrown around with the Spurs as we are right now.
But they are a “TEAM” because they dethroned a loose collection of “individuals” who happened to call themselves champions, right? Herein lies the rub about that; Miami was every bit a collective unit this year as last. They just weren’t as good.
As said toward the end of last week’s edition of “Live from the Cheap Seats” with Matt Whitener, the mainstream sports media deserves a large part of the blame for the Spurs’ standing in our psyches. Though there was absolute truth in the lack of an aesthetically pleasing style in the early years of the dynasty — you know, when the league itself was not aesthetically pleasing unless your team was any good — that changed dramatically over the years. Somehow, because of where they play, the Spurs are still perceived a certain way by people who parrot the same out-of-context spiel about market sizes and TV ratings.
All of this leads to a secondary and connected theme that has sprung up in light of how both San Antonio and Miami are discussed. While both fan bases are understandably immersed in the perceptions of their teams, cynical outsiders have said at least one of the following statements right since Game 5 ended:
“The Spurs can’t have their moment.” “They’re going to be overshadowed.” “It’s going to be more about the team that lost rather than the team that won.”
Not if you continue to say such things. Not if you keep asking when they will be appreciated despite the flood of once-delayed reverence we’ve given in the last two seasons. Not if you opine for the best pro sports outfit in the last 15 years to get the same level of mainstream media attention that it has given your favorite broken franchises for the wrong reasons.
Not if you keep retweeting anything or anyone related to terrible debate shows or the horrible curmudgeon columnist of your likely dying local newspaper.
And anyone who lets the ill-informed or outright ignorant continue to hijack the spotlight to instead shine it on Miami’s flaws through no-context memes, YouTube clips edited for agenda and lazy sports clichés is just as implicit in the champs “being overshadowed.” Although by the looks of things, it seems as if the San Antonio Spurs are having quite the moment in the sun these days.