The opportunities to appreciate Tim Duncan are getting fewer and fewer by the day, even as he continues to show he has more in reserve than most ever thought possible at the age of 37.
For that reason and more, San Antonio Spurs fans should be rooting for the Miami Heat to survive the Indiana Pacers. This has been a magical season for the San Antonio Spurs, and with tomorrow not guaranteed for a team whose core sits on the wrong side of 30, if this is to be a curtain call of sorts for Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, it deserves the largest audience possible.
As nice as it might be to see old friends (George Hill), the Pacers will not draw the nation-wide interest the Spurs already struggle to produce.
The Spurs need the Heat, or specifically, the Spurs need the Heat’s LeBron James and the national audience that the he brings to the table.
The Spurs are boring. You can stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it still won’t change the national perception that the Spurs are boring. It’s a topic that has been brought up ad infinitum since Duncan and Gregg Popovich’s emergence in San Antonio. It’s also a sensitive subject for many Spurs fans.
Large as San Antonio is, it’s subject to a bit of an inferiority complex in regards to its small market stature. There remains a feeling that the national media largely ignores or disrespects the Spurs because where they’re located, and a tendency to take those perceived slights personal. If you can accept that disrespecting and ignoring are two different things than you must also accept that the Spurs are perhaps the most respected organization in the NBA.
Duncan, Popovich, and the Spurs have become universally admired in the NBA circles that matter for what they bring in terms of basketball. Even Tony Parker has finally begun getting recognition as one of the NBA’s elite point guards, with some going so far as to place him at the top of the list.
But understand that basketball bliss does not make a team exciting, or at least as far as casual basketball fans—and therefore the national media—are concerned.
These days when national pundits refer to the Spurs as boring, it’s usually only to contrast past stereotypes with present realities. It’s a small trick to introduce contrast into the narrative to show how far the Spurs have come.
The root of the Spurs problem comes not from their style of play, quality of character, or even the size of their market. After all, the Thunder have proven a big success in the smaller Oklahoma City market. If the national media or casual fan show disinterest in this Spurs team it’s because one simple factor—basketball fans don’t really enjoy basketball for the sake of basketball.
On a large scale basketball fans want narrative. They want something akin to the WWE and professional wrestling, only in the form of a legitimate athletic competition. Heroes and villains, falls from grace and redemption, outlandish characters—these things, combined with extraordinary physical feats packaged neatly in highlight reels, are what drive narrative and interest.
Basketball for the sake of basketball is a niche, and one covered admirably by blogs and websites. These are where hardcore fans of the game will find play breakdowns, long form essays about a particular style of play, scouting reports, etc. There are X’s and O’s out there who owe much of their content to Gregg Popovich diagrammed plays.
Unfortunately none of that plays well on television with the larger audiences. The Spurs are uninteresting to these large masses simply because the only thing they sell is basketball. As much as many of us in San Antonio have grown up with this Spurs team we know remarkably little about them. It’s hard to remember that Manu Ginobili is a family man until you’re in the locker room and his twins are running around everywhere, future el contusions and turnovers waiting to happen.
There are only so many ways to say how remarkable their longevity is, to explain the nuances of their system, before you start repeating yourself. And even then, the Spurs aren’t likely to give you anything in depth regarding strategy or system, opting for clichés more than anything insightful.
Any sportswriter out there would jump at the first opportunity to write a Gregg Popovich biography—he’s one of the most fascinating personalities in the game–if Popovich would ever allow one.
When Tony Parker states the Spurs are used to not getting attention due their playing in San Antonio, he’s being a little disingenuous. The Spurs don’t get attention because, quite frankly, they don’t want it.
There have been attempts by national sports media to run the type of stories fans want to see, many of them turned down. Perhaps the only thing the Spurs defend more than the three-point line and rim is their privacy and insight into who they are as individuals.
That’s not to say the access granted isn’t helpful or under appreciated. There are things I’ve gathered for stories I never would have by watching from afar. It simply makes things difficult for those that aren’t with the team on a day-to-day basis.
For the Spurs to work within a national narrative there are specific roles they have to fill. In the first round the Spurs worked well as the straight man in the Lakers comedy of errors. Personality could also be thrust upon them as a generic hero against a charismatic and hate villain, like Michael Keaton’s Batman to Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
The Spurs are boring, but they’re boring to a national audience entertained by reality television, Vin Diesel movies, and Nikki Minaj. There’s not accounting for taste when talking about what entertains us a nation.
Who cares if a national audience tunes in to was LeBron James take on the San Antonio Spurs so long as they tune in?