Once upon a time, I am ashamed to admit, I thought the Spurs were kind of cool. I was a kid, mind you, and I didn’t think the Spurs were cooler than the Suns, of course, but there were some things about them that I liked.
- They had a great logo. I’ve always been a big fan of sports team logos, and the Spurs’ fascinated me, the clever way the “U” was an angled spur, the solidity of the letters, and so on. I even had a Spurs pennant for a little while (it’s important to note it hung beneath the Suns’ pennant on my wall). They almost ruined it a number of years ago by adorning the logo with pastel stripes, but luckily thought better of it and got rid of them.
(Smaller notes on logos: The NBA used to have some great ones. The old New Orleans Jazz logo was a masterpiece, the Buffalo Braves with their stylized letter “B” that incorporated a Native American feather, and the all-time best, the Atlanta Hawks, with their brilliant use of negative space to show a hawk’s profile. Nowadays, by far the best logo in the NBA is the Suns’ “firebird” logo, with “PHX” stretched across the basketball. No other team logo even comes close)
- They came from a strange place. Not just San Antonio, which seemed about as accessible and familiar to me as an 8-year old as Neptune (I’ve since been there, and it’s lovely), but somewhere even more peculiar… the ABA. My first year of interest in pro basketball was the American Basketball Association’s last year of existence, so it has always been, to me, a league of stories and legend, somewhat mysterious and exotic, related to the Suns only in the sense that Connie Hawkins once played there, briefly. When the Nuggets, Nets, Pacers and Spurs made the NBA scene in 1976, it was like they’d walked in from the wild, wild, west.
- The Spurs had great, flamboyant personalities among their players, some of whom were pretty terrific. Any discussion of Spurs history starts, of course, with George Gervin, the Iceman, originally a Suns draft pick (it’s true), a rail-thin scoring machine, and the man of a thousand finger-rolls. I think every kid my age had that famous poster of him sitting on those blocks of ice (For his sake, I hope that was a quick photo shoot). There was Larry Kenon, a small forward who was pretty talented, but maybe not as talented as he thought he was. He gave himself the nickname “Mr. K,” and once famously declared himself the best small forward in the NBA – whereupon every small forward in the NBA lit him up like a pinball machine for the next three weeks. There was James Silas, a point guard graced with the nickname, “The Late Mr. Silas,” not because he was, you know, dead, but because he regularly exhibited heroics at the ends of games. And their center was the enormous, utterly immobile Billy Paultz, who will forever be known by the wonderful nom du hoops, “The Whopper.” Later on, they even picked up one of my favorite players ever, Artis Gilmore, who had the biggest Afro I had ever seen, and who I once saw block a shot by reaching up through the net, catching a jumper, and flipping it back – then professing astonishment and outrage as he was called for goaltending.
Those Spurs were fun. They ran a lot. Their defensive strategy called for them to hold you to two fewer points than they scored. They won a lot of games and looked like they had fun doing it. It was sure fun to watch them.
The current incarnation of the Spurs, the Spurs of the Tim Duncan era? Well, you have to admire what they’ve accomplished. They’re brilliantly coached, superbly disciplined, play excellent defense and exhibit remarkable poise. They’ve won three championships. Tim Duncan ranks among the greatest big men to ever play the game, Tony Parker is faster than perhaps anyone in the league except Leandro Barbosa and is a solid floor leader to boot, Bruce Bowen is a defensive demon, Manu Ginobili is “Mr. Intangible,” and on their bench, they have one of the best big-shot specialists ever to play in Robert Horry.
But I’d rather watch almost any other team play.
The Spurs are a methodical team that finds your weakness and exploits it efficiently, not spectacularly. Tim Duncan, for all his brilliance, makes highlight packages only when he gets thrown out of games for laughing – which only happens when he’s off the court. Tony Parker, of course, doesn’t need our love – he has Eva Longoria. Seriously, how do you root for Tony Parker? You root for the guy to GET Eva Longoria, not after he’s already done it – after that, you just wish someone would bonk him on the nose with their forehead during the critical stages of a playoff game (wait a minute…). Enough people have questioned Bruce Bowen’s defensive practices for me to look at him with a jaundiced eye every time someone he’s guarding misses a shot. Manu Ginobili flops more than Dick Fosbury (who?), and I keep expecting him to get off the bench to go into a game, only to fall over the end line…and have the referee call a foul on the opposing team (seriously – watch how many times he hits the deck during a game at the slightest contact). And Robert Horry has broken Suns fans’ hearts (and the hearts of every other team’s fans) too often for anyone to root for him other than his own immediate family. Besides, Suns fans will never forgive Horry for, during his short tenure as a Suns player, responding to a request from Head Coach Danny Ainge by whipping a towel in the coach’s face.
In fact, the only current Spur I kind of like is Michael Finley, and that’s just because he was once a Sun of good standing.
Of course, all of this is good-natured grumping and sour-graping until the Suns finally prove the Spurs no longer have their number. And right now, all the numbers are in their favor: The Spurs hold a 12-4 advantage over the Suns since Steve Nash rejoined Phoenix; The Suns are 3-4 all-time against the Spurs in playoff series, but only 1-4 in the last five series; the Spurs have those three championship banners in their rafters and the Suns have none; and most crucially, the Spurs lead the current playoff series, one game to nothing. The Spurs just win. Over and over and over again. You have to – HAVE to – hand it to them.
The Spurs are a team to admire – but the Suns are a team to love. Great players, great system, exciting plays, wonderful individual stories, the hope of the future of professional basketball play, and a franchise long overdue for the ultimate success. How could anyone outside the San Antonio area code NOT root for them? You see my point, right?
So do what I’m going to do. Paint your face purple tonight (or orange if you prefer). Comb your hair forward in your best Nashian ‘do. Cover your nose with sympathy bandages. And root, root, root for your Phoenix Suns to bring home Game 2 and win this thing in six. San Antonio’s been there, done that, and you have to appreciate them for it.
But now it’s our turn.