The NBA’s Western Conference Finals started tonight, and with them another chapter in my ongoing struggle to come to grips with the banal, excruciatingly clockwork dominance of the San Antonio Spurs. (Yes, I know that they lost; bear with me, I’ve been thinking on this post for like a week)
Whether I’ll be able to will myself into cheering for the Lakers — an organization I loathe from its ownership to its vandyke’d top dog on down (with the exception of Lamar Odom and Luke Walton and, at least in the ’70s, Randy Newman) — is probably even less interesting to you than it is to me, but I’m going to be approaching this series with what I hope will be a more abstracted approach than I brought to my, ah, fair and balanced Spurs coverage from last year’s postseason.
As was the case last year, the Spurs have made their inexorable way through the postseason by stalking and then boring to death two considerably more interesting teams; or, in the case of the Suns, the ghost of the most interesting team of the last decade. As for the Spurs themselves, the team and not what they represent…I sure can’t beat them (seriously: I’m like 6-0, 155), and I will not join them, so I’m going to study them. For as long as I can, at least. That might be a 15-minute stretch before I bounce over to A&E to see if they’re showing re-runs of CSI: Miami (answer: yes, they are, right now) (this is true whenever you read this post), or it might be longer. But I’m going to get to the bottom of my Spurs thing. By which I mean: try to find a reason better than “they’re just…I mean look at them” why I dislike this team so much.
The easy stuff is easy. Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry are cheesy hatchet-men of the lowest order, and everyone knows this. They’re loathsome. And the flopping and googly-eyed beseeching of referees from pretty much everyone else on the team — Brent Barry, Ime Udoka and Jacque Vaughn seem too chilled out for this, and Matt Bonner and Damon Stoudamire barely even get to put on warm-ups anymore — is corny as fuck, too. Again, we all know this. It’s the Spurs, none of this is new, or news, to anyone who’s watched this group manage to somehow make — really, I’m trying to be fair — the most efficient and effective basketball anyone has played in a decade seem totally ugly and unpleasant. So, can I give these guys, this brilliant team, a fair shake?
The short answer is that I’ll keep you posted. The slightly less-short answer is that I doubt it: there is something in me (the kids call it hating; I think it’s some leftover adolescent iconoclasm/contrariness) that resists teams that are anointed as “winners.” The Spurs, to be fair, are not nearly as joyless or aggrieved or hateful as the pre-Super Bowl Patriots; they are, though, every bit as metronomic and predictable and inexorable and…and I hate things like that. Even as I recognize their utility as a sort of abstract standard — any team can beat the Spurs (or any other perfect team) by rebounding and denying open shots and not making mistakes (and making shots) on offense — I just hate things that are inevitable and unbeatable and bigger than human-scale. I think of cancer and climate change and globalization as being like that. I think of basketball as being fun.
The one place where my dislike for the Spurs runs aground is when it comes to Tim Duncan. I want to like Duncan. (Not really, but…fair, that’s the new thing) He seems like a decent guy and is — per a discussion I had with mega-referrer Brendan Flynn the other day — pretty easily either the third- or fourth-most dominant player I’ve seen play in my lifetime. But I keep coming back to a short article I remember from Slate several years ago entitled “Why You Don’t Love Tim Duncan.” Sam Eifling, the piece‘s author, sums it up like so:
[Duncan] attends to the pesky details, tipping unreachable rebounds to teammates and running screens to seal off defenders; and he’s a character guy, more concerned with how he plays than how he looks. In other words, he’s the consummate square, a great example of how discipline, dedication, and noble conduct can triumph over all, which is, speaking on behalf of crass and lazy people everywhere, a truly unendearing thought. Duncan is the kind of athlete your parents would love for you to grow up to be just like, and he’ll probably never live that down.
And I do like Duncan, honestly. Dude likes Call of Duty more than me: okay, fine, the last video game I was actually good at was fucking Karnov. I don’t need to agree with a player’s taste in off-court entertainment to admire their work. I’m certain that Tracy McGrady doesn’t enjoy Erroll Morris’ movies as much as I do, for instance, but I’d still pay a dollar to watch him (McGrady, not Erroll Morris) shoot around. And I know, too, that this truly bizarre (and possibly unknowingly racist, I still can’t tell) post from Bobcats Planet in which Duncan is held up as some brainless hoops robocop — which GC, bless his heart, sent me a week or so ago — is wrong.
Wrong on several counts. For one thing, Adam Morrison is not an intellectual or otherwise socially conscious because he likes Rage Against the Machine and possibly owns this book. For another thing, Adm. James Stockdale is never an acceptable framing device for a blog post or anything else. And finally, it’s wrong in suggesting that Tim Duncan is somehow stupid. He almost certainly isn’t, and he almost certainly is one of the most dominant players I’ll ever get to watch.
And the team he’s on, if I and anyone else can watch them with clear eyes, is almost certainly our era-defining dynasty. So I’m going to try to watch them with clear eyes over the rest of these playoffs, or at least watch them with clearer eyes than I’ve brought to these games in the past. I’m going to try to watch them and really see them. As I wrote earlier, I’ll keep you posted on how that goes (at a shorter length, I promise). But here’s my guess as to what I’ll see, based on what I saw tonight and what I’ve seen leading up to tonight: a team that, fundamentally if not aesthetically, plays blameless, standard-setting basketball. And which I fundamentally cannot avoid blaming for that.