Monday, June 24, 2013

The Longest Day - the Longest Run

June 20 was Game 7 of a historic 2013 NBA Finals, which ended at the dawn of the longest day in the Northern hemisphere.  This year’s NBA Finals was historic for a number of reasons:

·    The winner of Game 5 in a 2-2 tie did not go on to win the series.

·    In a victorious Game 5, Danny Green who made his first Finals appearance broke Ray Allen’s record of most 3-pointers in a Finals series. (Green made 26 through Game 6 – Allen’s record was 22.)

·     The San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan came in as being the only player in NBA history to be in the finals in three decades.  A notable run!

If you were a casual basketball watcher and not into the stats, you would not know a lot about the Spurs star players because Coach Popovich doesn’t build superstars – he builds teams … quiet, unassuming teams who play not for individual glory but for team success. None of the Spurs roar on the floor, or draw attention through their bodies and hair or make histrionic moves that make them Hollywood worthy.  Somehow, I don’t see a multi-color tattooed Birdman Anderson or a long-bearded James Harden or other controversial player fitting into the comparatively conservative Spurs.

San Antonio is a small market – unlike Los Angeles (home of the Lakers and Clippers); New York (home of the Knicks and Nets) and Miami (home of the Heat), Chicago (home of the Bulls), Boston (home of the Celtics). If you haven’t seen Duncan, Ginobili, Parker or anyone else on the Spurs roster on Wheaties boxes or on national advertisements, it is by design. Greg Popovich prefers that his players focus on the game and not just fame or in some instances notoriety. Perhaps, there may have been some discomfort in Spurs camps when Tony Parker gained national media attention during his relationship with and eventual marriage to actress Eva Langoria and their divorce. 

If you were to pay attention to team chemistry, you will not find a tighter knit group than the Spurs. You will notice the quiet respect that Tim Duncan commands as the leader and the acceptance of each team player of their role. The quiet team spirit and their low key personalities on and off the court can be called their biggest strengths. Unfortunately, on a national level, these strengths have become their weakness. Except for die-hard basketball fans outside of San Antonio, few casual fans tune in to watch the Spurs – unless they are playing a nationally recognized team or an up and coming team like the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

According to the statistics, it is inevitable that Duncan, Parker and Ginobili will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame after they retire, just like George "The Iceman" Gervin, Moses Malone, Dominique Wilkins, David Robinson. Their induction may probably be done sans the fanfare and media circuit interviews in the manner to which they are accustomed. 

If you watched the series, and saw Tim Duncan playing with the same strength and flexibility of the much younger Heat players, you may have not realized that Duncan was 37! The minutes Tony Parker was active on the floor may have made you forget that he had a hamstring injury. And for certain times during some of the games, vintage Ginobili transported us back 6 years ago when they won their last title.

As this team recovers from their heartbreaking loss, let us not forget the superstars on the Spurs team who deserve all the accolades for making this series a long run and who had to live the longest day knowing that victory was so within their reach.

Unlike most teams, the Spurs have remained competitive and relevant throughout Greg Popovich’s coaching history with them. Yet, for all their prowess in many aspects of the game, doesn’t it make you wonder whether being team players has sacrificed the Spurs’ ability to shine as individual super stars?

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