Friday, June 15, 2007

Sweet Sweep!

A few years ago someone I trust gave me some very good advice: “Never write about a team that you’re backing because it just invites their savage loss.” I’ve ignored that advice before and have ended up trying to rationalize some surprise flogging to a team that showed every promise of victory. The majority of those whippings have been handed to the San Antonio Spurs, after I’ve gotten too caught up in the moment and proclaimed their supremacy too soon. This has happened way too often during the NBA Finals.
Now the Fat Lady has sung in San Antonio and the Spurs have won their 4th NBA title since that ugly abbreviated 1999 season, and I feel safe enough to write about them, without the chance of calling down their doom. Of course, there’s not much left to be said, now. Now, it’s all over and the Spurs have gone far beyond the “asterisk” season.

Back when their play-off run began I was celebrating Fiesta Week (Post on that to follow). They started off low, with an April 23rd loss to the Denver Nuggets, and since I know people there and had bet on the Spurs with confidence, I was disheartened with their start. But Denver was unable to come up with another win against the Spurs, and even Carmelo Anthony, looked like he was moving in slow motion against Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. The Spurs went on to win not only their next four (4) games against Denver but their first game on May 6th against the Phoenix Suns.
That was when I started to feel that creeping doom hovering around them. I started watching the games with a sense of dark foreboding. I’d talk to people here in San Antonio who were giddy but not willing to commit to the idea that the Spurs could pull it off again. “They can do it,” they’d say. “But I’m not going to start getting crazy about it until they get into the Finals.” Quite so.
Truth is, Spurs fans have had their hearts broken too many times in too few years at that stage of the game. From Fishers impossible shot in 2004 (that not only cost us the game but the Will to go on), to the gut-wrenching game 7 loss in 2006, that went to the Dallas Mavericks in overtime because of a terribly timed foul that Manu Ginobili handed Dirk Nowitski.
That was a cruel defeat to Dallas. The Spurs were working on a repeat title win, had a franchise record of 63 wins, were #1 in the West, and had played some of the best basketball ever seen. But Victory is a fickle mistress, you know? And the Spurs and the fans found out the hard way that, sometimes you eat the bear and other times the bear eats you.
This year Dallas held such a mighty record that the rest of the League was vying for second place for the most of the last third of the regular season. So, when the Spurs failed to rank second, and had to settle for third behind the Suns, well, no one got too excited about it. If we made it past Denver and the Suns, we would surely have to face Dallas in the Western Conference Finals. Nobody, not even I, wanted to imagine that savage match-up when this whole this started back during Fiesta Week or at any other time, for that matter. This year, though, it was the Dallas Mavericks turn to be eaten by the bear and it wasn’t the Spurs that did it.
In one of the weirdest matchups of the decade, the Golden State Warriors faced off against Dallas, and when it all started, everyone outside the Bay Area just kind of ignored it. But I still know some people in the Bay Area and I had to cheer for Oakland just because I lived there. Also, I had to rail against Mark Cuban and Avery Johnson, I took note of their first win over Dallas and recognized how, with the more of that fast and ready game, the Warriors stood a good chance against them. Also, it was impossible to ignore how the low ranked Warriors were being led by Coach Don Nelson, who was the former Dallas Head Coach. People here still sometimes call the Mavs “The Team that Nellie Built”, and we kind of feel that Cuban hired on former Spur Avery Johnson as Nellie’s assistant coach (promoted to head coach) with the sole purpose of taking out the Spurs. I am sure that he chafes at the thought of walking in Don Nelson’s shadow.
I had to get a taste of that action because, in my own warped mind, I was looking at it like Obi Wan Kenobi facing off with a Pre-Vader Anakin on Mustafar. Also, after watching the way that Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson handled Dallas, I got one of those feelings about that series, a weird, tingly itch that someone who likes sports needs to learn to heed.
The Warriors ended Dallas’s dream of a NBA Title in six (6) games, and the look on Mark Cubans face was priceless. To hell with him, we wanted to start an I-35 rivalry with the Spurs, and the team did their best to work up to that, but payback is a real bitch and when you got it coming to you, not even the best record and a flawless performance can stop the hammer when it falls.
Golden State advanced to take on the Utah Jazz and lost it 4-1, and the Spurs went up against the Phoenix Suns.
The Jazz were strong all season, and took out the Houston Rockets, 4-3 in the series. Utah was relieved to have a break from another Texas team and went out to take Golden State in five (5) games.
For San Antonio, the Suns were the hardest team to overcome in the post-season. Coach Mike D’Antoni is a very sharp and shrewd opponent and Steve Nash is the Tim Duncan West of the Pecos. But the Suns are not a one horse team, hell no! Amare Stoudemire, Leandro Barbosa, Shawn Marion, Boris Diaw, and Raja Bell, those guys were a beauty to watch on the court against the Spurs. The series was bloody and intense, with an injury, a nasty flagrant foul and one bad blowout. In the end the Spurs took it 4-2 in Phoenix.
The Jazz came on strong but the Spurs were coming off back to back wins to close out Phoenix and blew past Utah for two games before they were able to match up. The Jazz were able to sock one 83-109 loss to the Spurs but the series closed out 4-1, sending San Antonio to their 4th NBA Final since 1999.
That was when people here started to get a little crazy. With our position secured it was finally time to relax and push the team to the Final Victory of the season, the Big Win. The East was ready and when the dust settled it was the Cleveland Cavaliers left standing. In the slow and jabber filled days before the first game the buzz was all about their LeBron James, “King James”.
For years yammering loudmouths have been trying to compare this kid with Michael Jordon. I could understand it back in 03, or even 05, but this was the Big Time and was neither the time nor the place for that kind of insipid and sloppy talk. We suffered all the talk about how the Spurs are “boring” (applied to Tim Duncan and our whole Fundamentals style game), or that we play “dirty” (A term applied derisively to both Bruce Bowen and Robert Horry).
The truth is that, game-for-game, the San Antonio Spurs have become one of the best teams in the NBA. Coach Gregg Popovitch has applied the strict and pure style of basketball he honed at the Air Force Academy, and added to it the sense of Family and camaraderie that makes champions shine. No one can deny that the Spurs’ have the numbers and the record of Champs but what the Spurs do not have is a moral miscreant player under investigation for a felony, which, I believe, must be a requisite to be a “superstar” team, in far off places like L.A. and Detroit, and maybe Cleveland.
I think it exposes a weird sort of prejudicial bias in America against San Antonio. People don’t have that reaction to the Mavs or the Rockets but, as we have proven time and again, the Spurs are simply a better team. We are so good, in fact, that we have never lost a Finals series…The Spurs have won the championship every time they’ve been in it.
The past few days have been a flurry of action and excitement. I needed to find a way to cash in on, what everyone knew, was a losing battle for the Cavs. After the Spurs took back to back wins in San Antonio no one was taking the LeBeron talk seriously anymore. It wasn’t just that he didn’t score well, he didn’t score at all until the 3rd quarter of one game. He missed rebounds, boggled passes, and embarrassed himself on the court in front of the world time and time again. It was bad enough that we had to watch LeBron stink up the court but were were forced to watch LeBron in the station breaks and in Nike commercials, in Sprite commercial, and in promos. When compared with his actual performance during the game it all seemed like some sad, sick joke, and helped expose the kid for the overgrown and overrated man-child product of a media driven sensationalist cash culture that can glorify the “American Idol Winner” of the NBA, and deride a solid player like Duncan, who is so focused and dedicated, that he was jokingly referred to as “Spock” by the Duke student section when he was at Wake Forrest.
When the Spurs won game 3 on Tuesday my mother took out her broom. The entire city was at last confident and content that our Spurs were not only going to beat the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, but that we were going to humiliate them on world wide television, win it in a sweep, and then bring the trophy home for one huge party. I bet against the Spurs in game 3. It was a fit of manic idiocy that had to be done. I was winning too many of my bets and people stopped wanting to play with me, so I had to take one in the side, and lose on what was one of the lousiest games of basketball I’ve seen in ages. The Spurs played sloppily, failing to convert on turnovers, missed easy layups, and futzed around the court way too much. The Cavs buckled under the pressure of a powerful Spurs defense, and LeBron, while active and out there, was held back by Bowen, Horry, Duncan, and anyone else who could get into position, if needed. The Spurs didn’t win it because they were better, they won it because the Cavs were worse.
Last nights game 4 was beautiful because we won. We swept and we won and, in the end, that is all that matters. The Cavs looked strong for most of the game but after the half the Spurs mustered a weak rally, relied on basics, took advantage of gaping holes in the Defense, and just outplayed Cleveland. The thought that they would lose this game never entered my mind, not even when it looked like it could go into overtime, or when it came down to free throws, fouls, and possessions. Tony Parker continued to outshine LeBron, his post-season experience helping him overcome the faltering Cavaliers defense. (Parker picked up the Finals MVP trophy, and he earned every inch of it.) Manu and Fabricio Oberto worked their magic from the inside and the out, helping the spurs over come a ping-ponging deficit. Francisco Elson and Michael Finley turned up the heat in and out of the paint, and Brent Barry and Jacques Vaughan kept the Cavs guessing and running in circle. As the clocked ticked down, it was painfully clear to the Cleveland bench, fans, and the world that this was not to be their year.
There was no confetti for the Spurs in Cleveland. There were random boos and jeers from the crowd as David Stern presented the Spurs organization with their trophies. However, there was joy there and in the locker room, and there was celebration on the streets of San Antonio. The players celebrated with each other, and with family, friends and loved ones. In bars, homes, and out on the streets of downtown, there was merriment, sound, and passion.
The Spurs arrive back in town around 2 pm. The city is running shuttles to the Airport to greet them for a party. On Sunday there is going to be a parade on the river to show off the trophies, then, in the evening, a celebration at the Alamodome.

I’ve been up all night after the celebrations and revelry. Today I will collect on my bets watch their arrival on TV, and tonight, party with the rest of the city. The Spurs have won 4 titles in 9 years, and I’m sure that people will want to start using the word “dynasty”. Probably the same morons that talk about how boringly good the Spurs are, or how great Parker has become, or how LeBron will be better someday. You won’t really hear people here talking too much about records, or streaks, dynasties. Not yet at least. I, for one, am not taking any chances. Why Doom them now? I and the city will probably just enjoy this Sweet Sweep Victory, and another title, until sometime late next season…Then come see me about the odds on a Repeat.