The Underappreciated Dominance of the Spurs

The Spurs demolished the Oklahoma City Thunder last night en route to taking a 2–0 lead in the Western Conference finals. The way San Antonio goes about their business of taking opponents apart is so routine, so humdrum that they can’t even produce decent highlights. In trying to find something that would have summed up last night’s action with enough excitement, the only thing I could land on was a play in which the Spurs patiently break down OKC’s defense and then work the ball to an open man, Tony Parker, for a three-pointer (Manu Ginobili assist).

And who wants to see that?

Matt Yglesias had a piece in Slate yesterday wondering why people just don’t seem to care about San Antonio’s dominance. Headlines this season focused on the Thunder and the Heat, while the San Antonio machine just kept on ticking. Yglesias comes up with two major explanations. First: The Spurs don’t dunk and have almost never had spectacular dunkers on their team. Second: They’re notably absent of superstar drama — no “decisions,” no coach-player feuds, no rumors of leaving, nothing.

I do think that the memory of the Spurs is partially diminished by how long it’s been since they were “relevant” in the NBA. They’ve had a very long run of dominant regular seasons but haven’t been to the NBA Finals since 2007, their last title year. The Spurs also had a dynasty that was somewhat subtle, never winning back-to-back titles. However, for a long time, the Spurs did generate interest. Tim Duncan is universally recognized as one of the greatest players of all time, and their playoff clashes with the Shaq-Kobe Lakers were must-see TV for basketball fans.

Last year, when the Spurs showed similar under-the-rader dominance, they flamed out in the first round. The media, by and large, seemed to regard San Antonio’s regular season as an aberration unworthy of comment, and the first-round loss validated that narrative. The Spurs got old and the national media didn’t need to spill the ink on them any more. This year, the Spurs are proving that was probably a fluke.

The theme of Yglesias’s piece is right on, though, and I’d like to add something else that puzzles me. There are a lot of Americans who are fans of college basketball and eschew the NBA, and they often cite things that are supposedly unique to the college game. They prefer a game not driven by superstars, predicated by ball movement and off-ball action. They prefer teams that are ldefined largely by the identity of a coach, not a player. They prefer unselfishness and abhor showboating.

These are all things that define the San Antonio Spurs. No, they’re not exactly a college-style team. But they do embody the values that college basketball enthusiasts say they love. So I urge you, collegiate fans: Embrace the Spurs!

Related: I just love the NBA’s “Big” commercial for the Spurs.

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