Party Like It’s 1999 – What if I were to tell you that a thunder storm and a high school graduation ceremony caused one of the greatest shooting performances in NBA Finals history? If you would like to know how, you have a choice to make. [Note: I have just held out a blue pill in one of my hands and a red pill in the other] If you take the blue pill, you will wake up and you can believe whatever you want to believe. If you take the red one, you stay in wonderland and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I am offering is the truth. [Note: Choosers of the blue pill, stop reading now…choosers of the red pill, follow me] Lets start at the beginning. It was a little under an hour before tip-off of Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals. I had the KSAT 12 local pregame coverage on but was not really paying much attention to it because I was about to crack open my first beer of the night. It was at that exact moment that I heard the commentator say something that caught my attention. “Ladies and gentleman, we have breaking news to report. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan…” The reporter paused for what felt like an hour as terrible thoughts about what he would say next raced through my mind. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan…were both injured in the morning shoot around and are unable to play tonight [Thought #1], were suspended for Game 3 by David Stern after the commissioner finally came to a decision on the appropriate punishment for this after 6 months of carefully discussing it with his confidant Joey (Expletive Deleted) Crawford and yes, it is just a coincidence that these suspensions have come in the middle of the NBA Finals [Thought #2], had both started reading Bill Simmons’ column about The Duncan Show at 10:00 AM and upon finishing it at 4:00 pm they had gotten so excited that they started doing treatments on how to wrap up the Season 16 arc and had completely forgotten that Game 3 was today [Thought #3]. “Ladies and gentleman, we have breaking news to report. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan…have not yet arrived at the AT&T Center because they are stuck in traffic.” WTF!!!! Are you kidding me? This is just as or even more bizarre than all of the crazy scenarios that had just rushed through me head. The first NBA Finals game in San Antonio in 6 years and we might have to hear Kevin “Big Kev” Brock announce over the PA at the AT&T Center, “starting at forward from the University of Florida, Matt Bonner. Starting at guard from the University of Texas, Cory Joseph.” Can someone please get Mayor Julian Castro on the phone to get Tony and Timmy an SAPD escort to the damn stadium? What the hell are my city property taxes going towards anyway? Oh wait, that’s right…I don’t pay city property taxes because my neighborhood is still an annex of San Antonio. Okay, can somebody please get Commissioner Tommy Adkisson on the phone to get Tony and Timmy a Bexar County Sheriff escort to the damn stadium? What the hell are my county property taxes going towards anyway?
More on this later. First, I have a confession to make. Right after I said “lets start at the beginning,” I immediately decided to give you the abbreviated version of the story because I am extremely tired after a long day of work and I just wanted to get this blog entry posted as quickly as possible so that I can actually get a little bit of sleep tonight. But after getting into the abbreviated version, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t do this story justice and you, the reader, deserve to get the story in its entirety. After all, you did just take the red pill. So please accept my sincerest apologies and allow me to start over. The story actually begins in Port Arthur, TX and it begins at the tail end of the twentieth century. The year is 1996. A 16 year old high school basketball phenom named Stephen Jackson is hanging out with his 23 year old friend on the benches outside of their neighborhood’s basketball court. It is late afternoon and it is summer. It is 3:00 PM on June 15th to be exact. Anyone that knows anything about a Port Arthur summer afternoon knows that it takes a great amount of dedication to the game of basketball to be willing to tolerate the absolute agony of the heat combined with the humidity in order to work on your game on the outdoor courts. It takes a great deal of dedication to the game of basketball or it takes being in desperate need of a favor. Oh, I forgot to mention that the 23 year old friend that Stephen Jackson is hanging out on the courts with is Bun B of the Port Arthur hip hop duo UGK.
Bun: Hey Stephen, I need a favor.
Captain Jack: What is it Bun?
Bun: I’ve been holding something for a New York friend of mine, but I’m about to be going out on tour for the next six months so I need someone to hold it for me to keep it safe.
Captain Jack: I don’t know Bun, I’ve got my future to think about, this sounds kinda risky.
Bun: Chill Stack, it ain’t nothing crazy, just a little something I need stashed.
Captain Jack: It ain’t drugs is it?
Bun: Naw, lil’ homie, it ain’t nothing like that.
Captain Jack: It ain’t a gun is it?
Bun: Jack, I said it ain’t nothing like that. It’s a bag of magic “irrational confidence” beans.
Captain Jack: Huh?
Oh, I also failed to mention that the New York friend that Bun B referred to earlier is also an up-and-coming rapper named Jay-Z.
Bun: I know, it sounds weird, but if you eat one…you will magically be given the confidence to do other-worldly things that you otherwise couldn’t do. They really work. I got them from the homie Jay-Z when I was up in NY. He got them from a broke customer back in his slangin’ days who traded for them because he couldn’t afford to pay for his fix. Jigga asked me to hold them for him because he said that when he tried one, it gave him the confidence to write a diss track against 2pac. While the 2pac beef put him on the map, he doesn’t trust himself with the beans anymore because he is worried that they might throw his career trajectory out of wack because he is working on his second album and he is already feeling compelled to write lyrics comparing himself to Michael Jordan, Elvis, and the Beatles. Jay thought that if he gave them to me, I could put them to good use by propping up an entire stable of less talented Houston-area artists over the course of the next decade. So will you hold ’em for me?
Captain Jack: I still don’t know Bun, this is kinda weird.
Bun: Come on Stack, we’re on the same team. P.A.T., baby. P.A.T.
Captain Jack: Okay, Bun. I’ll hold them. You know that I will do anything for a teammate.
Fast forward. The year is now 2003. That tour that Bun B went on back in 1996 was off the chain cray. So much so that when he returned to Port Arthur after the tour wrapped, his head was so cloudy that he had forgotten all about the magic “irrational confidence” beans and the fact that he had given them to Stephen Jackson to hold. Likewise, Jack has now been holding them for seven years but he has been so focused on making himself into an NBA player that he had forgotten a long time ago that the bag of beans was in a storage container in his garage. It is late afternoon and it summer. It is 3:00 PM on June 15th, to be exact. Stephen, now an NBA starter for the San Antonio Spurs, is looking for an old “good luck” wristband out in his garage to help him play well in tonight’s ever important game. He happens upon the storage container, opens it, and rediscovers the bag of magic “irrational confidence” beans. For the first time in the seven years that they have been in his possession, Stephen Jackson eats one of the beans.
Fast forward. The year is now 2004. It is late afternoon and it is autumn. It is 3:00 PM on November 19th to be exact. For some inexplicable reason, Stephen Jackson, now playing for the Indiana Pacers, decides to eat a magic bean for only the second time ever in preparation for a regular season road game against the Detroit Pistons.
Fast forward. The year is now 2007. It is afternoon and it is spring. It is 3:00 PM on May 4th. Stephen Jackson, now playing for the Golden State Warriors is contemplating the possibility of checking himself into rehab. He is detoxing from a 10 day magic bean eating bender.
Fast forward. The year is now 2012. Stephen Jackson has been able to remain successful at his magic “irrational confidence” bean sobriety since he swore off eating them back in 2007. But he still keeps them in his possession and for some unexplainable reason, last week he transported the bag of magic beans from his home to his NBA locker. I guess there are worse things to keep in your NBA locker, Gilbert Arenas. It is late afternoon and it is summer. It is 3:00 PM on June 6th to be exact. Captain Jack, back with the San Antonio Spurs, has another huge game coming up this evening. He thinks long and hard about falling off the wagon and eating a magic bean in preparation for the game. But he thinks better of it because he knows that after 12 years in the league his confidence to make buckets is no longer irrational. He then has an epiphany of sorts because he really wants to win tonight’s game. He decides that he will give magic beans to some of his teammates. He is ready to offer them up when he realizes that the bag of magic “irrational confidence” beans is actually in his home locker back in San Antonio and this is a road game.
Fast forward. The year is now 2013. It is late afternoon and it is spring. It is 3:00 PM on April 11th to be exact. Greg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, is conducting his annual CIA-style surveillance exercises at the AT&T Center. Popovich, an ex-intelligence officer for the United States military, is really, really good at these sorts of things. In fact, he currently has a pretty decent side gig to his duties as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs where he is making some serious coinage serving as a consultant for both the National Security Agency (NSA) as well as for Verizon Wireless. During the sweep of his players’ locker room (one of the surveillance exercises), Popovich discovers that Stephen Jackson has a bag of magic “irrational confidence” beans stashed in his locker. Disgusted that Captain Jack has been holding out on his teammates all season, Popovich confiscates the magic beans and stores them in a safe in his office that he keeps hidden behind a painting of himself wiping his nose with Craig Sager’s handkerchief which ironically was painted for Pop by former President George W. Bush. Despite his ideological differences with the artist, Coach Pop really loves this painting. The next day, Greg Popovich cuts Stephen Jackson for his selfishness. “After all,” said Coach Pop in an exclusive interview he granted theLeftAhead to discuss this topic, “there is no ‘I’ in ‘bean.'”
Okay, so this brings us back to where we began. It is yesterday. I’m standing in my living room cursing my television at the news that Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are stuck in traffic less than an hour before the tip-off of Game 3 of the Finals. Greg Popovich, however, is not panicking. He is in his office at the AT&T Center adjusting his game plan to prepare for the worst case scenario. He is just wrapping up a three-way phone call with Timmy and Tony who are both sitting in the middle of San Antonio gridlock with no end in sight. Ironically, it is harder for both Timmy and Tony to see how much further they have before traffic loosens up because their vision is impeded by all of the San Antonio Spurs car flags waving on the vehicles in front of them. Luckily for them, Coach Pop (who somehow seemingly knows more about the situation that is unfolding on the streets of San Antonio than even the city’s best traffic and weather reporters) informs his players that a severe thunder storm, moving over San Antonio from southeast to northwest, is the cause of the traffic jam on the highway which has now been exacerbated by the unusually large amount of traffic that is in the area for the John Paul Stevens High School graduation ceremony. About to wrap up the three-way call with his players, Coach Pop blurts out, “can you hear me now.” Popovich, as well as the NSA agent and Verizon Wireless tech support representative who are both listening in on the conversation all chuckle. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have no idea what their coach is talking about. This is not an unusual occurrence. Popovich hangs up the phone, springs up from his desk, takes down the George W. orginal portrait of him and the Ragin’Sagin (as Pop refers to Sager), unlocks his safe, opens Stephen Jackson’s bag of magic beans, takes two out, walks to the training room, approaches Danny Green who is getting his ankles taped for the game and says, “eat this and don’t ask any questions.” Danny Green nods and without saying a word, he eats the first magic “irrational confidence” bean of his life. Popovich precedes to the player’s locker room and surveys the room. His attention is drawn to both Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. He swings his head back and forth between the two players for a brief moment. Matt Bonner is eating a sandwich whilst doing some sort of yoga stretch. Gary Neal is studying game tape. Greg Popovich begins walking towards Gary Neal. The rest is now NBA history.
Gary Neal went 6-10 on three point attempts last night, stepping up on the NBA’s biggest stage to carve himself out a little place in basketball history. He didn’t want to occupy that space alone so he invited Danny Green to join him. Green also went an astonishing 7-9 from the arc last night and is now 16-23 on threes for a magnificent 70 percent in the series (it is actually 69.5, but when you are the leading scorer in the NBA Finals to this point you get the benefit of me rounding up). These rotation players, benefiting from their magic “irrational confidence” beans, led the #BlackAndSilver to a dominating 113-77 victory over the Miami Heat last night at the AT&T Center. Throw in the three pointer that Tony Parker sunk, and the Spurs’ backcourt combined to knock fourteen down. Throw in two more threes by Kawhi Leonard, and the squad converted on an NBA Finals record 16 triples. San Antonio was able to return the favor to Miami for the Heat’s 19 point Game 2 victory. Gary Neal earns player of the game honors because Danny Green has earned the honor before, also because Gary Neal hit more of his threes while the game was still in jeopardy. My wife made the comment last night that Gary and Danny played like they were partners on one of those cheesy police shows and last night was one of those scenes where Gary Neal shoots the bad guy multiple times, and then Danny Green walks up to the bad guy (who is already down on the ground) and shoots him a few more times just to make sure he is dead. One of the most exciting by-products of this amazing Spurs victory is that in the past 24 hours, Gary Neal’s journeyman story of perseverance has been well covered by the national media and told to millions of people. In the post-game press conference Gary was asked about one of my favorite parts of this amazing story; the circumstances of him and his wife deciding to postpone their honeymoon for the sake of his basketball career. Gary remembered, “So she decided that it would be a good thing if we went to Vegas instead so that I could try to make an NBA push.” I predicted that the Spurs would earn one blowout victory at home during this series. I still think that the next two games will be gut-wrenching slug fests that will be won by the team who can clamp down the most on defense and execute with the most precision on offense during the guts of the fourth quarter. The challenge ahead is still enormous. The defending champions will not eliminate themselves, the Spurs will have to impose our will to make that happen. We still need to play our best 96 minutes of basketball this season in order to hoist a trophy this year in San Antonio. We need to play better tomorrow than we did last night. We can do it if we remember that which matters most. That after 16 years of playoff battle after playoff battle… we are still here! Tomorrow, let us send a message to our opponent. Tomorrow, let us shake this cave. Tomorrow, let us tremble these halls of earth, steel, and stone, let us be heard from red core to black sky. Tomorrow, let us make them remember, this is San Antonio and we are not afraid!
Epilogue: Rewind. The year is 1991. It is late night and it is summer. It is 3:00 AM on June 15th to be exact. A customer trades a bag of magic “irrational confidence” beans to a small time New York dealer named Shawn Carter. That customer is Darryl Strawberry. He convinces Shawn to make the trade by informing him that the beans were harvested on a top secret farm owned and operated by the United States military. Strawberry says that the reason he knows this is because the magic beans were given to him years before by an undercover military operative and even though he has only tried them once, they definitely worked. The undercover military operative who gave the magic “irrational confidence” beans to Strawberry went by the alias Gregory “The Operator” Popo.