It’s a warm, sunny day in San Antonio. The sun is shining and the birds are chirping, and the Spurs are once more NBA Champions. After delivering an all-time-great thumping of the defending champions in a rematch of last year’s Finals—of which we will speak no more!—San Antonio’s intensely likeable batch of protagonists can hoist the trophy at least one more time.
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili—the venerable trio of thirtysomething stars who proved their greatness yet again—can all decide their futures in the months to come, without any lingering questions about their legacy. Kawhi Leonard, the charming 22-year-old hero of the series, who calmly contained G.O.A.T.-contender LeBron James for four of the five games that it took San Antonio to claim the title, earned MVP honors.
That GIF above (via SB Nation) is essentially a six-second partial explanation as to why this Spurs team so quickly became America’s team. (Something that our own Jason Cohen explored before the start of the series in greater detail.) It’s fun to root for people who look like they love what they do, who make playing a game with your bros look like the best pssible job a person could ever have, who can take such obvious joy in seeing a young teammate like Kawhi Leonard earn MVP honors. That delight from the older players plays on television as the sort of sincere happiness that captures the things that made the Spurs one of the easiest bandwagons in professional sports to hop onto.
It’s the culmination of a “team-first” approach to the game, where it’s impossible to believe that Parker or Ginobili are secretly thinking, “I should be getting that trophy” as they congratulate Leonard; it captures the multi-generational aspect of the Spurs team, where 65-year-old coach Greg Popovich fits in the popular imagination as the father figure to his long-tenured trio of stars (he’s been coaching the 38-year-old Duncan for 17 years), and Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili in turn treat the young MVP as a protege and torchbearer for the Spurs’ way of playing; and, of course, it’s an award that Leonard earned because of the way he handled LeBron, which—because this is celebrity-obsessed America and the NBA in 2014—is at least half of what this series was always going to be about.
The “celebrity versus working class” aspect of the series, or the “flash versus fundamentals” lessons, are ultimately a bit unfair to James and the Heat, perhaps. Yet there was something incredibly satisfying about not only watching the Spurs beat the team of superstars led by someone who—but for Michael Jordan’s name—would probably be the consensus Greatest Of All Time player in the game, but to see them utterly dismantle them. The games the Spurs won, they won by an average of 17.5 points, and if it hadn’t been for a few missed free throws late in Game Two, this entire series would have been an all-time rout in which the Heat essentially never even showed up. As it is, the Spurs basically spotted the Heat a 16-point lead to start the game, then managed to secure—and maintain—a 33-point swing for the bulk of the second half. There are great games and there are blowouts, but because of the difference in how the Spurs are perceived versus how the Heat are perceived, every game the Spurs won in this series somehow managed to be both: the sheer schadenfreude of watching the Spurs methodically chip away at a Heat lead, then claim their own, then calmly keep the Heat from ever again making it close, served as a rebuke of some of the things we claim to find distasteful about sports culture.
Perhaps there’s something worth discussing about the fact that people who only hopped the Spurs bandwagon a week or so ago (and I’ll identify myself as a member of that group) are celebrating the humiliation the Heat as much as they’re cheering for San Antonio, but it’s probably best to leave that to the cynics. Instead, take a look at the joy and pride on the face of Tim Duncan as he offers a leaping embrace of a courtside-seated David Robinson immediately after the buzzer, with the Admiral the final link in that multigenerational chain that is the Spurs: Robinson retired—after welcoming future stars like Parker and Ginobili to the team—upon claiming that last ring, and he’s a Spur for life. Whatever the immediate future may hold for Duncan, he’ll carry that same distinction, and the GIFs ten years from now will probably show Kawhi Leonard celebrating a future Spurs championship with an older Tim Duncan. Life is cyclical that way, and the 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs remind us of that in all of the best possible ways.
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)