LeBron LeGone: An appreciation of the San Antonio Spurs
Through shades of black and silver, color me unimpressed with the Summer of LeBron.
For all the hype, has anything drastically changed in the NBA?
Well, one thing has changed. Cleveland is crushed. Itâ€™s hard not to feel sympathy for Cavaliers fans, who live in a city that does not simply endure suffering. They define it, with a the for emphasis. There have been many fumbles throughout history, but only one The Fumble. Many game-winning drives, but only one The Drive. And now, there is The Decision. Or is it LeDecision?
Now that the smoke is beginning to clear, everything seems shockingly familiar. Age prohibiting, it would appear the NBA finals still run through Los Angeles and Boston. The Lakers are still the unquestioned favorite. Darko Milicic is still an overpaid NBA player whose team continues to add power forwards. And of course the San Antonio Spurs are still the Spurs.
If we take anything away from this Summer of LeBron, itâ€™s how thankful we should be for that.
A decade ago San Antonio Spurs fans held their breath while Tim Duncan was openly wooed by another Florida team with the same promises of teaming him up with another elite player in his prime who then just so happened to also be hyped as the next Michael Jordan. The decision was excruciatingly closer than many Spurs fans care to believe, as an NBA.com reporter reminded us back in March:
â€œI came close to leaving,â€ Duncan said.
Tim Duncan may not have been the homegrown star that LeBron James was for Cleveland, but his loss would have been just as devastatingâ€”probable team relocation devastating.
Given similar situations and the same high stakes, the two men revealed what should now separate them in the history books. Whereas LeBron James created a media circus that appeared to be about everything but basketball, Tim Duncan, with his priorities in line, made a decision instead of a spectacle.
This coming from a player, who despite the hype, wasÂ a better player then than what LeBron James is today. And in delivering the news as only he could, Duncan revealed more personality than all the one-hour ESPN specials ever could (again, from NBA.com):
It was the Moment of Truth, or the Turning Point of the Franchise, or whatever reach-for-the-antacid title you want to attach to it. Duncan got straight to the point, which felt like a dagger in Pop’s gut.
“Well coach, you know, there’s no beach in San Antonio,” Duncan began, trying to break the news gently.
You know when a woman gets a breakup call from George Clooney? This felt like one. Until Popovich realized he was being punked.
“There’s no beach in Orlando, either,” Popovich growled. “There’s a cultural desert there. What do you want to go there for?”
Duncan laughed and gave the coach the good news: He was re-signing with San Antonio. The other day, Popovich smiled at the memory of getting pump-faked by his center, and said: “He got me. He got me good.”
Off the court there is little we truly know about Tim DuncanÂ or LeBron James, and thanks to Tim Duncan’s stoic face, there is little we know about him on the court as well. But there is something in the way he operates where little snippets like the one above ring honest. Not fabricated.
With a number of personal attacks towards LeBron James running across the internet, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott offers his own personal theory for the hate:
Why is it that so many are in the mood to hate LeBron James?
A theory: It’s because he stepped out of place. Players play. That’s how it was. They are quiet and sweaty craftsmen who ought not to be heard from except to call out plays and say “yessir” to the coach. The way sports used to be, owners did things like make billion-dollar decisions and general managers and agents did things like agonize over personnel.
But that was always a myth. The owners, GMs and agents may have seemed like they held all the cards, but that’s only because players weren’t great at wielding the power they had. The players always drove the value, because they are what motivated the fans who paid for everything. It has taken decades, but eventually a player — this player — figured out how to really put himself in the driver’s seat, with billionaire owners lining up, one by one, attempting to earn his valuable affections.
There may be some truth in that, along with the fact that he created a one hour celebration that destroyed the dreams of Cleveland fans. But all the same, as a fan, I would rather not have to deal with such power plays.
It’s not about keeping players in their place for the sake of keeping them in their place either. Those that make such plays generally have their own agenda, and wining isn’t usually the driving force behind it.Â That, and former players not named Jerry West historically make terrible general managers.
Despite what Abbott reported, one player has in fact recently made such a move. For a brief moment in time Kobe Bryant took the reins of the Los Angeles Lakers, and it got him Kwame Brown, Smush Parker, and the promise of many first round exits to come until Chris Wallace bailed him out with Pau Gasol.
Successful franchises often attribute their good fortune to good culture. Again, the Los Angeles Lakers are a prime example of that, moving from the culture of Kobe back to the one put in place by Phil Jackson. The Boston Celtics were made possible because Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett, and the Spurs of course have Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan to thank for theirs.
The underlying point is that franchises can only create the culture that their star player allows them to, and by all account the Cleveland Cavaliers were an organization that placed their culture at the feet of LeBron James.
Now, Gilbert is the tough guy with James leaving the Cavs behind? Listen, Ferry and Brown always warned Gilbert that giving James everything he wanted â€“ giving it when and where and how â€“ wouldnâ€™t be the way they would keep him. LeBron didnâ€™t respect them because they never demanded it.
Gilbert always believed he should do everything James wanted â€“ hire his buddies into jobs, throw them on summer-league rosters, allow him to do those stupid pregame choreographed dances â€“ that James would love him, that he would never leave. Only, James is a taker, and he took and took until he had bled Gilbert and that franchise to the bone.
The San Antonio Spurs time in the sun is setting fast, and soon Tim Duncan will retire. But San Antonio should take some comfort that as cursed as Cleveland is as a sports town, we have been immeasurably blessed. Twice now the Spurs have hit rock bottom at the absolute right time.
That’s two more times than most franchises can claim. And for Cleveland? Even when they find themselves in the right place at the right time they get the wrong person.
Because while LeBron James was the King that the Cleveland Cavaliers bowed down to, Tim Duncan has been the foundation upon which the San Antonio Spurs have pounded the rock.