Probably like most of you — I’m assuming you’re all Mavericks fans — I hated the San Antonio Spurs for so long, I didn’t even remember why anymore. Which is never good. I am a firm (and, to be honest, recent) believer that you should only hate a few things, and hate those few things with as much vigor as you can muster. And part of that philosophy is always remembering why you hate it.
I don’t like the Miami Heat either — for 2006, for clowning on Dirk in 2011, mostly for Dwyane Wade — and so, when the Spurs and Heat squared off in last year’s NBA Finals, my initial hope was for both teams to somehow forfeit. I don’t know — a gambling scandal or something. I didn’t really think it through. But as soon as the series started, I realized pretty quickly that I wanted the Spurs to win. And, also: I didn’t really hate the Spurs, anymore. Also, also: I actually sort of liked them.
The roots of my hatred were simple:
1) The Spurs were the Mavs’ natural rivals and …
2) … unfortunately, they almost always got the better of the Mavs
3) Tim Duncan’s face
4) Bruce Bowen, who I still cannot rationally talk about without wanting to drive to his house and make him take 500 jumpers while I stick my foot under him, hoping he sprains his ankle when he lands
5) They made the game ugly
No. 1 is still true. So is — with some notable, awesome exceptions — No. 2. No. 3? Yep, although now it’s just sort of like an internet meme I’ve lost interest in. But the last two aren’t, and No. 5 is actually quite the opposite now. They make the game beautiful. Perfect, at times.
Basketball is my favorite sport, and the NBA is my favorite version of it. And the Spurs play it — the last two seasons, at least, and probably going back to around 2010 — better than anyone else. When Duncan was in his prime and Bowen was on the wing, doing his best to injure far more talented players, they anchored a stingy defense that was the focal point of the team. They wanted games that ended with a score of 87-79. Their offense amounted to Duncan shooting reliable bankshots from the blocks, with a gang of corner threes, and some change-of-pace craziness from Manu Ginobili. The big complaint about the Spurs has traditionally been that they were boring. They weren’t. They were irritating. It was like giving someone a new Ferrari and then watching them use it to run errands.
But when they couldn’t rely on defense any longer, the Spurs turned into one of the best offensive teams I’ve ever seen. Everyone on the team can pass, and they’re all willing to. No one is quite as good at passing as Larry Bird was, but the Spurs’ skill at moving the ball is reminiscent of the 1986 Boston Celtics. When it works, and it did over the last three games against the Heat, it is amazing to watch.
Also, the Mavs almost beat the Spurs this year, came closer than anyone else in fact, and that is pretty awesome.