Waiting for Godotnobili, with Danny Green
“[The OT Spurs-Mavs game] will make our bench so much deeper when our injured guys come back.”
– Danny Green
January 30th found me driving up the I-95 at the crack of dawn to my home in Richmond — I had work in two hours and I’d been visiting my girlfriend at UNC. (She’s still in college, as I perhaps should be.) Instead, I work as a statistician. Fittingly, I tend to find myself calculating out silly things in my head. This time I’d used my GPS to make an estimate about when I’d be back to Richmond with some basic assumptions. Next I’d estimated the amount of time it’d take me to shower, get my business casual swag on, find my ID, and jet it to work under normal traffic conditions. But to my surprise — in my rush to get out of Chapel Hill early — I found I actually had a spare 10 minutes to burn and still get to work on time. I knew the minutes existed: I’d left early and done the legwork to earn them. The sun was rising.
Stopping the car alongside the road, I walked the bridge by the Lake Gaston. I’d watch a sunrise.
• • •
Danny Green isn’t wrong, necessarily. But it’s a few shades of wrong and we can drown a cruise ship in caveats without getting at the heart of why it’s so meaningful. There have been a million pieces on why the Dallas game (despite the loss) was valuable, and there could be a million more before it truly sinks in. They’re wonderful pieces. Brilliant in aspect, thoughtful in perspective. And they’re right. It was a great game, however you choose to give it context — in a purely aesthetic sense, it was fantastic. More than that, the confidence our bench guys gave themselves will reap benefits over the long season. But the exact conceit Green implies here strikes me as tad foreign to its core — not to the NBA, but to reality: Green’s math implies a stark calculus of addition. But as we see time and again, it’s a calculus of decomposition.
You do not simply add a fully healthy Manu to a fully clicking bench. You do not simply make a shot and win the game you lost. For all you add, you take away in equal measure. For every 20-30 minutes of Manu Ginobili that you add, you must take away 20-30 minutes where Neal, Green, Anderson, and Kawhi can get their games rolling and have the nights of their careers. You trade youth for antiquity, the unexpected for the steady hand. Or is it so steady? So too does the cold calculus of decomposition stare back at us, this time in the form of age, wear, and the tear of seasons long past. How good will Manu be, back from injury? How good will TJ Ford be upon his return? They may be wonderful, they may be awful. They could be revelations, they could be unrecognizable. There is an element of risk in the return from an injury, at any age — but it’s doubly so for a player past 30 whose game depends on his otherworldly grit and tenacity. The risk adds to the uncertainty around the late season. And to no small extent, it makes me dread the return of our star as much as I can’t wait for it.
• • •
As I watched the sunrise, I was taken aback. And I laughed at myself.
When I was a child, I used to mock one certain gradient palette in Microsoft Word. It was called “sunrise”, I believe — it was black, auburn, blue, and hazel. And I hated it. It was the worst gradient Microsoft Word had to offer, and for some reason I never really understood, my teachers always used to use it in their handouts. I grew up in California, and moved around to various parts of Arizona. I’ve never been one to watch sunrises, as I’m quite the night owl, but I do consider myself something of a sunset connoisseur. And being from the southwest, I was used to beautiful, majestic sunsets — royal magenta over the darkest blues as bright orange clouds faded into the horizon. Beautiful sparkling moon over all of it. Some gorgeous stuff. Things to write home about.
But this sunrise? Nothing particularly beautiful about it. It was boring. In fact, as I saw it, this sunrise was the gradient. I was shocked. If this was the only sunrise I’d seen in my life, I’d be convinced beyond all reasonable doubt that the gradient I had so thoroughly mocked as a child was the truth of the situation. And it made me think, consider, dwell. What had I been expecting, really? I’d never seen a sunrise over a lake. Not once. I’d simply assumed the lake away, I’d thought it would turn out perfectly. I’d paid no attention to my rear-view, through the trees, and I hadn’t noticed what I was stopping to see. I expected that I’d get to see a drop of Aivazovsky. But not every sunrise is beautiful, not every sunset pretty. Sometimes they’re positively dismal. Dreary. Unexpectedly lacking in the beauty we’ve come to expect.
I realized something, though, as I was standing on the hill and staring over the artificial lake reflected in my glasses: Just because this sunrise lacked beauty, form, and disappointed me didn’t mean I had nothing to learn from it. It was a terrible sunrise, one that broke my expectations in twain and wasted a good five minutes of my drive catching some air and staring at a boring spectacle. But from it came a bit of coming-of-age contemplation. Black. Auburn. Blue. Hazel. The worst gradient in the world. The gradient Bill Gates saw fit to place before me, perhaps out of personal spite.
But was it accurate? Patently so.
• • •
We don’t know how Manu is going to look when he comes back. We don’t know what this Spurs team will look like when the season ends. At this point, we find ourselves spinning our wheels and idly tossing out challenging statements about how good we’ll be when we get Manu back. And we hope, and pray, and do all sorts of silly things as we await our savior. But expectations are often a burden and hopes are an invitation for disappointment. And Danny Green seems to understand that. He’s saying – nothing more or less – that the bench will be more prepared to play well, when our golden child returns. And that’s a point worth holding onto. After all, it’s true. It’s real. It’s tangible. Manu will be back, and TJ will be back, and the Spurs will be the Spurs.
Perhaps they’ll be the same team, perhaps a different team, perhaps a worse team. We don’t know what’s going to happen. And there’s only one way to be happy, when you’re this buried under the weight of your hopes and dreams: Expect nothing. Appreciate everything. And watch with a smile as the bench shows us glimpses of our future.
And never use that damn gradient.