Dancing With Noah

Just messing around, getting triple doubles

Tag Archives: San Antonio Spurs

A Letter to Kawhi Leonard

**This is the first in series of 10 poems and art pieces leading into the 2018-19 NBA season. All art in this series is done by friend of blog, Andrew Maahs whose portfolio can be found at http://www.Basemintdesign.com. The poem below should be read to the tune of Lionel Richie’s 1984 hit song, Hello. A brief, entertaining background on the video of the song from Wikipedia:**

The music video, directed by Bob Giraldi, features the story of Richie as a theater and acting teacher having a seemingly unrequited love for a blind student (Laura Carrington) until he discovers she shares the feeling as demonstrated by the discovery that she is sculpting a likeness of his head. The bust used in the video, which bears little resemblance to Richie, has been parodied in popular culture. Richie himself complained to the video’s director, Bob Giraldi, that the bust did not look like him. Director Giraldi’s response was “Lionel, she’s blind…”

We’ve been alone with you inside our mind
And in our dreams we’ve won with you a thousand times
We sometimes see you pass the ball to Kyle
Kawhi! we think we even miss your smile … ?

We can see it in your eyes
We can hear it in your laugh
You’re all we’ve ever wanted, since we traded for you in the draft
‘Cause you knew what not to say
And you knew what not to do
And we want to tell you so much, we miss you

We long to see the bright lights in your rows
See you dab the sweat upon your nose
Sometimes we feel our team will crumble down
Kawhi! You really left us in a lurch

‘Cause we know just where you are
And we know just what you do
We know you’re feeling lonely, we know Masai is loving you
We don’t want to win your heart
‘Cause it’s unhealthy and unsmart
But let us start by saying, we never knew you
Kawhi! Do you know what you’re looking for?

‘Cause we wonder who you are
And we wonder who got to you
Are you somewhere feeling sated, or did someone hypnotize you?
Tell us who drove a wedge between our hearts
For we haven’t got a clue
But let us start by saying we miss you
Kawhi! Was it Tony or Uncle Dennis?

Does it even matter now?
We’d never blame Pop or RC anyhow
Like Toronto, this world’s so cold and so untrue
It’s the ones you love who end up leaving you
We hope your new friends keep you warm all through the night
Canada’s pretty damn cold, you know that right?
Kawhi! Dejounte tore his ACL

But you can’t hear us any more
The distance is oh so far
Kawhi …



San Antonio Blues II

It was somehow over five years ago, almost to the day that I wrote my first post, titled (with conviction no doubt) San Antonio Blues. It was the opening round of the playoffs and the Spurs, led by a 34-year-old Tim Duncan, were in the process of being unceremoniously dumped by a resurgent Grizzlies team that was making its first playoff appearance in four years.

Back in 2011, I wrote:

The incarnation of the Spurs that we know: the systematic offense (even you, Ginobili, with your behind the backs and violent head fakes, are systematic), constricting defense, the method, practiced and refined, perfectly improvised; this version is gone. It’s the same group of guys wearing the same jerseys and coming up with the same regular season results (61 wins and a number one seed in the west), but with different method.

To look back now, it feels so improbable that in a five-year span San Antonio took that “different method” to its zenith, won two titles; then cut back again and managed to win 67 games with a historically dominant defense. I have no feeling about being right or wrong, but I lacked imagination and an inability to see the possibility of reinvention and regeneration – even though it was in front of my face. (re re re – it feels like Duncan, Manu, Parker and Pop are case studies for pro sport re-imagination which is a fantastical leap of the will of the mind triumphing over ego.)

When I made my first post in 2011 it was with some sense of finality, some foreboding feeling that the book was closing on the Spurs. But it was a two-pronged failure of a prognostication: First, that the Spurs as a Parker-Duncan-Ginobili core were finished, but there was no ending, just a chapter closing. The Spurs layered in Leonard, built Green out of his own best basketball self, seamlessly integrated Boris Diaw, and developed guys like Patty Mills and Cory Joseph. Whether it was R.C. Buford or Pop or both of them ideating on a porch swing on some San Antonian veranda, the Spurs collective hatched an idea and executed against it. My second failure was just an inability as a 30-year-old (was I just 30 then? It feels like another plane of my life.) in 2011 to foresee the inevitability of change without death. As a 35-year-old writing this now, it’s easy to look back at my growth as a human, a man; growth on mental and emotional levels with the comprehension of deep and honest loss and clearly see an inability to transpose that onto athletes or a team. Yet that’s exactly what happened with this group of Spurs – existential growth in the midst of physical decline.

Aside from the past, these playoff Spurs glided into a clumsy landing to the 2016 season. In 2011 I compared their defeat at the hands of a hungry, aggressive Grizzlies team to Biggie’s “Things Done Changed” track off Ready to Die. I’m fresh out hip hop metaphors, but these past six games in the Western Conference semifinals have been reminiscent of that decimation five years ago. Even though they’ve become Western Conference staples, OKC is still a younger, more athletic collection of talent than most of their opponents – particularly the Spurs – but they’ve grown into a more brutally bludgeoning version of themselves. If it was the hunger of Tony Allen and Sam Young symbolizing the fearlessness of those original Grit & Grinders, it was Steven Adams and Enes Kanter in this series. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the thoroughbreds gallivanting through the halls of basketball glory, but it was the thumping insistence of Kanter and Adams that acted as human body blows to Duncan, Aldridge, West, and even giant Boban Marjanovic. Where lesser players may have flinched at the snarls and glares of West, Adams and Kanter treated him like another speed bump on their way to rebounds and the Western Conference Finals.

It wasn’t just victory and defeat, but the manner of victory. It was physical, not executional. It was strength and endurance, not just mental fortitude. I don’t know or care if the Spurs were better prepared because it doesn’t matter now. OKC had too many horses or dogs or Kanters or Adamses. They were unrelenting and somehow inevitable.

And at the five-year anniversary of starting this blog, I find myself impressed by those still blessed by the sliver of youth (Durant and Russ have been in their mid-20s forever it seems) but relating to the unrelenting nature of change and age. I sit often with my leg propped up and an ice pack around my hamstring, going on six weeks nursing an injury that happened in a pickup game – half court no less. And though I don’t have title rings or banners, and though I rooted for OKC, I’ve never before been so capable of relating to the Spurs, that aging core with its calm, but confident acceptance of the passage of time. There isn’t any sadness in this defeat; there’s plenty of that outside basketball. It’s just change, one foot in front of the other, one day after the next with time offering endless opportunities for context and reflection.

San Antonio Blues

I’m not gonna lie. I didn’t dig into Ready to Die until after Life After Death had already been released. My hip hop journey started left and moved to the right, geographically passing over me in the process and so I was always catching up to the east coast. I was at the University of Iowa with a Case Logic book stuck full of CDs. Notorious was already dead, but when I threw on Ready to Die, it was like my Iowa City dorm room had been transformed into some grimy denizen in Brooklyn.

“Things Done Changed” is the introduction into the nightmares to come on Ready to Die, but here it’s a postscript for the Spurs. Biggie focused on the strapped youngsters changing the game, but he neglected to tell us about the old heads unable or unwilling to assimilate into the gun culture.  The Grizzlies, with all their scrappiness, Brooklynese griminess, Tony Allens and Sam Youngs are the stickup kids:

…for the stupid motherfuckas wanna try to use kung fu/Instead of a Mac-10 he tried scrappin/slugs in his back and that’s what the fuck happens…

Yep, that’s what the fuck happens. From the Grizz bum rushing the Spurs in Memphis in game four to the Spurs sneaking by on a Gary Neal three in game five to the inevitability of Memphis stomping out the embers of hope in game six, the Spurs done changed. This isn’t anything new: teams age, superstars fade, Zbos come up and Ernie Johnson holds down the fort through it all. The incarnation of the Spurs that we know: the systematic offense (even you, Ginobili, with your behind the backs and violent head fakes, are systematic), constricting defense, the method, practiced and refined, perfectly improvised; this version is gone. It’s the same group of guys wearing the same jerseys and coming up with the same regular season results (61 wins and a number one seed in the west), but with different method.

The regular season is the key qualifier though. I always thought injuries and health would catch up with this iteration of the Spurs, but with the exception of Manu missing game one, the Spurs stayed as healthy as a team can after playing 80+ games and traveling across the United States for seven straight months. “Little motherfuckers with heat” may have pulled the final trigger, but they didn’t do the Spurs either.

Outside of San Antonio, the Spurs weren’t considered a strong option to win the title or even make the Finals. We know a fake when we see one and while you can’t fake your way to 61 wins in 82 games, you can fake being yourself. Time and circumstance forced Pop’s hand to come up with a new team out of old basketball players. And somehow he pulled it off with the second-most regular season wins in a 15-year career and the third-most in franchise history. The Spurs had slowly been trending toward this style over the past three or four years, but this season seemed more real and at times genuine because they were pulling it off so effectively. It’s almost harmonious for fans and analysts to see the Spurs in first place and be lulled into thinking they had returned for another voyage into the deep.  

Then the playoffs started and the ruse was over. In terms of the Spurs postscript, the reverse-Biggie perspective, the Grizzlies have little to do with the Spurs’ aging wrinkles and saggy skin. If it wasn’t Memphis, it would’ve been Portland, Denver or OKC. Has a number one seed ever had so many poor potential matchups in the first round? The only two teams that matchup favorably for San Antonio are Dallas and New Orleans. This version of the Spurs relied on a magician’s bag of tricks: Manu’s leaning tow-on-the line two to keep hope alive in game five, his half-court shot in game six, his double behind-the-back dribbles—the same stuff he’s been doing for years. Only in the past, it was just one part of a larger ensemble. Manu went vintage in the 2011 playoffs, but it was a solo act. He stayed true to the game we’ve been watching for the past decade, but the rest of the club couldn’t keep up with his pace or rhythm. The Spurs fumbled In the fourth quarter of game six, dropping passes, miscommunicating on must-foul situations, were routinely beaten to loose balls and collapsed at the end with what felt like a sense of relief.

Change is inevitable, but doesn’t make it any less challenging or difficult to swallow. Today the future doesn’t matter in San Antonio any more than it does in Memphis. Both cities and fan-bases are stuck in the present for all the right reasons.

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