A Greater Glory
I watched last night’s Spurs-Wolves game on broadband, which is always good for local color. During their game call, Tom Hanneman and Jim Petersen waxed eloquent about how underrated Gregg Popovich is as a coach. Why, they wondered, is Pop’s name not a constant fixture alongside Pat Riley and Phil Jackson? Is he the best coach in the league? Surely, his name is in that conversation.
Every postseason, without fail, brings the familiar moment when some national writer or radio host has a “Oh my, Tim Duncan is really, really good” epiphany. In recent years, this has morphed into the annual revelation that Duncan is the best power forward to ever play. Three years ago this revelation constituted controverted discussion fodder, but increasingly it’s more of an operating assumption. Or maybe something of a begrudging concession. Even this morning, ESPN is running a poll that asks, “Which big man is currently playing better?” Your choices: Amare Stoudemire, Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. This despite the fact that ESPN’s preferred metric rates Duncan ahead of Howard and Bosh.
ESPN is also running a teaser this morning which suggests that the second most dominating performance of the last decade was turned in by Manu Ginobili. Do you remember it? Probably not. Somehow one of the great games of basketball history has simply dissolved within our collective consciousness. It’s sandwiched in between a threesome of Kobe Bryant performances, which we all recall with glee. Manu Ginobili is at least the third best shooting guard on the planet, and might be bested by only Bryant depending on how one rates him against Dwayne Wade. Yet, he’s rarely spoken of in those terms.
Individually, Tim Duncan is the most successful–rated by win percentage and championships–player in team sports this decade. As you might expect, the Spurs are the most successful team in sports over that span. They’re more dominant than the Patriots and Red Wings. Better than the Yankees and Red Sox. The Duncan-Popovich Spurs are one of the great teams in the history of American sports. This is fact.
So what are we to make of Tony Parker’s epic 55, 10, and 7? He is only the third player in the history of the league to do so. The other two were Oscar Robertson and Michael Jordan. If you didn’t believe it before, believe it now. Tony Parker is one of the league’s elite point guards. He’s one of the world’s great players. And, at this early stage, he’s the best player in basketball. Yes, Tony Parker.
Some readers might find this laundry list tedious. “Another Spurs fan who thinks his team doesn’t get enough attention,” they’re thinking. But here is the thing, I don’t mean any of the above as a complaint. The Spurs lack of fanfare is their glory. The fact that their team is consistently under appreciated is the most telling testimony of their greatness.
Gregg Popovich likes to say that a Spur is someone who has “gotten over himself.” In other words, in San Antonio you play as a team, and you play to win. Individual achievement be damned. So let Tony Parker’s big night stand as a memorial to this. He could erupt for 40 0r 5o points a little more often, but he doesn’t. He has the talent, but it rides in the back of the train. Team success is the lead car. Tim Duncan’s usual 20 and 10 could just as well be a more occasional 30 and 15, if not for the fact that he is deferential and rations his minutes for when they count, the playoffs. Manu Ginobili is irreplaceable, as attested to by the Spurs 1-3 start.
Tony Parker’s 55, 10, and 7 is a testimony to the fact that the glory he possesses as an individual, for all its titillating brilliance, was forsaken long ago for the glory of the team. The glory of the Spurs is that sometimes their glory is lost to us, even though it could hardly shine brighter. They are, as the poet said, lost in a luminous light.