Tuesday, May 29, 2007


They have the most successful player of the last ten years. They have the quickest point guard in the NBA (accompanied by the most famous fiancee in the world) . They have the new King of Flop who also happens to be an offensive threat whether starting or coming off the bench. They have the league's premier shutdown defender under 6'9" whose name isn't synonymous with a brawl with fans. They have a coach who despite his new found fashion (loving the no-tie look plenty), still carries a proven playbook with three championships from interchangeable parts and one stalwart on the low block.

They are the San Antonio Spurs.

They are also the most unappreciated team in the state of Texas.

It was said that for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz, the Spurs couldn't sell out their own building. This could have prompted the continued bemoans of the NBA from media heads and casual fans, but instead, it didn't even conjure up a whisper. You would think that the team that has won three NBA titles since 1999 would never have to worry about filling a few seats, but no! Suddenly, some Spurs fans remembered their good fortunes and headed for those empty sports in Game 2.

Wow, thanks for showing up!

The Houston Rockets coughed up a first-round Game 7 against the Jazz, leading to Jeff Van Gundy's dismissal. The Astros are treading water, despite the addition of Carlos Lee and Mark Loretta (underrated - ask San Diego and Boston). The Texans are happy that Matt Schaub hasn't been sacked yet. The Mavericks... you know what happened there. The Texas Rangers aren't lighting up the AL West, the Dallas Stars didn't pull a Brett Hull to at least advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs and the Dallas Cowboys are showing some leg in those practice shorts. Kevin Durant is likely headed to the Pacific Northwest and those Longhorns are attending summer classes... stop laughing.

The best show in town can't get love from its own fans. They have become the NBA's version of the Atlanta Braves, another franchise that can't fill Turner Field unless the Boston Red Sox or either New York franchise comes to town. Of course, what may come to mind is that at least the Spurs have won three titles while the Braves only have one to speak of. Yet, how many teams in each sport can say that they have a chance to even contend year in and year out? Not many. How many teams have been able to utilize every avenue of player acquisition without sacrificing their contention status or their future plans as these two teams? Same answer. So why the apathy towards winning franchises?

It is easy to say that in the case for Los Bravos, they have fourteen consecutive division crowns and five National League pennants since 1991, but only one World Series championship to show for their playoff appearances. It's funny when you think about it because there are perennial losing teams such as the Chicago Cubs that never have an issue with selling out Wrigley Field. So, why haven't the Braves been a big draw? It's because Atlanta is an apathetic pro sports town that shows more love for the SEC and ACC. The colleges feature predominantly homegrown talents and the roots between the universities and the Southern states are deeper than anything pro sports can offer, even though the Braves are the oldest team in North America. If this success happened in Milwaukee or in the birthplace of the team in Boston, the loyalty would run just as deep as that of the Georgia Bulldogs. Yet, in Atlanta, there seems to be a fatigue from only bringing one title to the city as the 1995 World Series brought the lone major pro championship. Each year since, they have run into better teams (the '99 Yankees), teams with greater momentum (SF Giants in 2002) or with respect to the late Eric Gregg, poor calls at the plate ('97 Marlins). Yet, each year, they've been in the playoffs, something that was not guaranteed before the addition of the Wild Card in '95. It's been said that fans are tired of being good enough to be there, but never good enough to win. Which is why the apathy towards the Spurs is so baffling.

San Antonio might as well have been a town for Wild West re-enactments to most of America. It's hard to believe that it is the seventh-largest city in the United States, but other than its military history and the River Walk, San Antonio is known solely for its Spurs. One would think that the franchise would be better served playing in another city such as Kansas City, which is starved for an indoor pro team or Las Vegas, which is the object of many Americans' desires. Yet, thanks to luck and a shift in power from the Eastern to the Western Conference, the Spurs have been as close to a dynasty that the NBA has since Michael Jordan ruled the world. Even with the Los Angeles Lakers' threepeat in the early 2000s, people knew that eventually, the team would be pulled asunder because of the strong personalities Jerry Buss and Jerry West put together. The Spurs got lucky in drafting Tim Duncan back in 1996 and proceeded to unload much of the pressure from David Robinson. When they won their first title in 1999, they won with Sean Elliot, Mario Elie, Steve Kerr, Avery Johnson and Malik Rose. In 2002, they still managed to take a title with Robinson, Kerr and Rose along with Kevin Willis and Steve Smith, but they added youth in Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson to make the stretch run. Two seasons later, they had a different mix of young and old, but Parker and Ginobili were mature enough to take pressure away from Duncan and Bruce Bowen gave opponents fits on defense. Finding Parker and Ginobili in the '02 Draft may have not been heralded at first, but they have kept San Antonio in contention into the era of increased offense and limited defense. Gregg Popovich hasn't changed his playbook much, but with general manager RC Buford, he has been able to change parts, if necessary. While the style of play and the players themselves aren't endearing to most NBA fans and writers, they just win. That is an expected criticism from outsiders, but from fans in the San Antonio region? It's hard to believe that this is so, but if the Game 1 turnout implies that the fan base isn't enthralled with the team, then there is something wrong.

You can afford to be bored with winning all of the time if you have a longstanding history of doing so. Frequent winning isn't just luck, but immense skill coupled with circumstance. In other words, when the rules are changed or the owner's wallets aren't open, winning at the highest level can be nearly impossible. Yet, it is strange to know that a team can wear our their welcome by doing what they are supposed to do; get Ws, build for championships today and beyond, provide excitement for their loyalists. Atlanta and San Antonio should be grateful to have teams that can bore them by playing at an elite level year after year as there are many cities that would gladly trade all of their collegiate and professional teams for one year to call themselves the home of champions right now. They have to be careful with this apathy towards achievement.

They could be the home of the Pirates, Cubs, Mariners, Royals, Hawks, Blackhawks, Sacramento or Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Cardinals, Lions, etc.

Or worse yet, they could be Yankee fans feeling the oh-so-dreadful six-season title drought.


preardon said...


Great read! I remember when Boston sports fans would flood the media airwaves and lament the lack of "respect" that the Patriots were getting for their run of 3 Super Bowls in 4 years. It doesn't even compare to the underappreciation that the Spurs have received. Granted San Antonio isn't a major sports market, but I feel that the NBA as a whole and David Stern are partly to blame for their lack of "marketing". Here we have Tim Duncan, who is arguably the greatestt NBA player of the last decade (notwithstanding the Jordan return), and the NBA does little to market him or ride his coattails. Plus, he's the consummate gentleman. He's well-spoken, and an aberration in the sense that he actually has a college degree! What a novel idea. Why wouldn't the NBA want Tim as its poster boy? You'll never hear of Tim Duncan holding up a nightclub or raising dogs to fight? I can't help but think how big a star he'd be if the ping pong balls had only bounced the Celtics way...

Jason Clinkscales said...

Mucho gracias. I'm not a Spurs fan and yeah, they don't have the most appealing style of play, despite the insane quickness of Tony Parker. However, I have to give credit where it's due. You made an excellent point about how this team is poorly marketed by the league and media (the NBA's marketing plan is another piece in itself). It's like how a woman says she wants a nice man that caters to her to only turn around and still date the bad boys. I understand how Celtics fans still wished they had Duncan, though the Big Fundamental still needed a little help via free agency, trades and shrewed drafting.