This was almost a triumphant story. 37.2 seconds away. Then 23.9 seconds. Then 19.4. 7.9. Then it was gone.
This was almost a story of a young man abandoning a place where he grew up. Going off to the greener pastures on the other side of the fence. Then, having a change of heart, returning to great fanfare and celebration.
90’s basketball was the best. The Admiral swatting shots away. Shaq destroying backboards. Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake.” The Glove to the Reign Man. Mt. Mutombo’s wagging finger. Stockton and the Mailman. And of course, Air Jordan, Pip, and the Chicago Bulls.
Has any sport been as loaded with awesome nicknames?
Has any sport been as loaded with all-time greats during a decade?
Has any sport ever been so compelling?
Baseball during the Great Home Run Chase in 1998 was pretty awesome (“Do you want to know the terrifying truth, or do you want to see me sock a few dingers?”). Football is always awesome. They can’t touch 90’s basketball.
The ascension of the NFL in America corresponded pretty neatly with my abandonment of professional basketball. Baseball has always been my favorite sport, but I’m a football guy. From August to February, I devour football. Two or three fantasy football leagues. Three or four games a week. There is no better product than the NFL. It’s so good, in fact, that they face the bizarre challenge of filling seats when the view from the couch is even better.
During this time, basketball effectively ceased to exist. Months after the 1999 Memorial Day Miracle and Avery Johnson’s baseline jumper, I stopped watching basketball. I tuned in for the 2003, 2005, and 2007 NBA Finals to see my San Antonio Spurs hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. But that was it.
Football was the first straw, but David Stern was the last. Between the relocation of the Seattle Supersonics, the 2011 Lockout, and the egregious conflict of interest that was the Chris Paul trade veto, I resolved to never watch another NBA game until David Stern was no longer commissioner.
Then, this year, during the final year of the Stern regime, the San Antonio Spurs made the NBA Finals. A funny thing happened. I cared again. Some of it was the undeniably compelling story of the South Beach, Hollywood All-Star Heat taking on the quiet, professional Spurs. Contrast is always intriguing.
But even more so, it was the Spurs. MY Spurs. The team I loved as a child. The team I later cheered to three more championships despite football taking over my sports life. I felt compelled to watch every game. My team needed me. I was being pulled back.
With 5.2 seconds remaining, Ray Allen drilled a three-pointer, sending Game 6 into overtime. The Heat would edge the Spurs in that game and then hold on to win Game 7.
If this story is about the 2012-2013 San Antonio Spurs, the story does not have a happy ending. The bad guys won, make no mistake about it. The attention hogs, the glory boys, the trendy bandwagon fans, the Biebers. They won.
But maybe this story isn’t about basketball. Maybe this story is about rediscovering joy. Maybe it’s about renewing one’s devotion.
I came back to basketball hoping to share the thrill of victory. But if this story is about me, the jealous brother was right. I didn’t deserve victory. I left and came back when it was convenient. I deserved a slump-into-your-couch loss. Moments like this, though, will only make that next victory all the sweeter.
At least, that’s what I hope. Redemptive suffering is the new black.
And silver. Go Spurs!