Shake It Out – Intellectually, I understand the merits of the worldview that argues that it is irrational for me, as a spectator, to get emotionally invested in the outcome of a sporting event when it does not have a direct impact on my own life. I understand the rationale behind treating sports as escapism, as a distraction from the rigors of everyday life, and to enjoy the injunction from personal stress that rooting for a favorite team provides but to do so while remembering that what I am participating in is just a game and should not hold relevance to my personal happiness because it exists tangentially to the circumstances of my life and the societal forces which are influencing it. After all, my desired outcome for the 2013 NBA Finals would not have lessened the remaining balance on my home’s mortgage nor would it have accelerated the recovery of the San Antonio housing market from the 2008 collapse that occurred within six months of my wife and me purchasing our first home; a collapse that has subsequently caused us to spend the duration of our marriage digging out of the financial hole that we were left to manage given that our home was rendered chronically underwater and we’ve been too responsible to walk away but also too financially limited to maneuver our way out of the unfortunate bad luck of investing in the housing market at literally the worst possible time in the last 50 years. My desired outcome for the 2013 NBA Finals would not have increased the size or scope of the across-the-board pay raise that was recently fought for and won by the members of Texas State Employees Union, a group of people that I am privileged to work closely with every day, in an effort to force the Texas legislature to address a systemic problem, front-line state employee salaries in Texas have lagged dangerously behind inflation for decades which has severely eroded their buying power in relation to the cost of living; a problem that the power brokers in Texas would have been more than happy to ignore completely, this past legislative session, if they had been left to their own devices. My desired outcome for the 2013 NBA Finals would not have repaired strained relationships in my personal life, it would not have afforded me more free time to devote to completing the manuscript for my first book, and it would not have provided the clarity for my wife and me to definitively answer an on-going question, “when in the journey towards establishing our careers is the best time to start our family?” [Note: any comments in response to this post which attempt to compare us to the characters Carol and Trevor from the movie Idiocracy, no matter how humorous and well intentioned, will not be received favorably since poor Trevor dies childless as a result of a tragically embarrassing episode]. Yet despite all of the merits of the worldview I have just described, a worldview that carefully places one’s spectator sporting allegiances on the peripheral of the forces being exerted upon one’s pursuit of personal happiness, as a die-hard Spurs fan, I have no choice but to unequivocally reject it. Despite my attempts to intellectually rationalize to myself the worldview that basketball is just a game, that the successes and failures of my favorite team are inconsequential to the forces which are creating the tapestry of my personal happiness, it has been more than a month since the completion of the 2013 NBA Finals and I remain utterly heartbroken that the Miami Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 in Game 7 on June 20th.
Perhaps the reason for this is that the intellectual worldview is inherently incapable of accounting for an indispensable variable factoring into the experience of a die-hard sports fan such a myself. That is, the rooting interest has developed organically out of deeply personal experiences and in care of immeasurably valued relationships over an extended period of time. For a die-hard sports fan, each opportunity to root for the favorite team does not occur independently in a vacuum, but rather occurs on the top of a mountain of memories and experiences that have not only contributed to a lifetime of both happy and sad moments but also have played a significant role in determining the trajectory of the individual’s life and consequently, have indeed made a substantial contribution to personal happiness. In other words, for a die-hard sports fan, the obsessive participation in spectator sports is an outward projection of meaningful experiences and relationships which cut to the core of the fan’s sense of self. When a significant collection of memories that help piece together one’s understanding of the experiences and relationships that bring meaning to life are stitched together through the common thread of a sporting interest, one’s allegiance to the success of that sporting interest naturally becomes very central to one’s sense of self. This mountain of memories collected in pursuit of cheering for one’s favorite team are valuable not only in there relevance to organizing the team’s successes and failures in ones’ mind, but more importantly they are important as bookmarks of one’s own personal experiences and vessels for cherishing one’s most meaningful relationships. Where is it that we begin to formulate our sense of self and our conditions for happiness if not through our own memories?
My Uncle Bob took my brother, Chris, and me to see the Spurs play Larry Bird and the Celtics at the old Hemisfair Arena for our first NBA game. From around 1994 to 2005, I went to see the Spurs play the Pistons in San Antonio with my father almost every single year. One year, the Pistons beat the Spurs at the buzzer and I’m pretty sure Dad was the only person in our entire section that was cheering. While on a college visit to Trinity University with my mom in 1996, we went to a Spurs game while in town and I decided that night to apply for early admission. I was at Tim Duncan’s first home game as a rookie in 1997 at the Alamodome with my friend, Yousif. When the Spurs used to practice at Trinity, I was playing pick-up basketball on the outdoor courts when David Robinson was walking to his car one day. You better believe, I dribbled right up to him and crossed him over, he couldn’t stop chuckling all the way to his car. I was at the first game that Tony Parker started in his career in 2001. I was in building at the AT&T Center when Tim Duncan received his 2nd NBA MVP trophy, the Spurs beat the Shaq and Kobe Lakers that night. My friend, Brian, and I were at Game 1 of the 2003 NBA Finals. I watched Game 2 of the 2005 NBA Finals between the Spurs and the Pistons with my dad in Georgetown, TX. I watched the Spurs play the Pistons with Dad in Georgetown again that fall, our last game. My wife, Jenn, has continued the tradition with me, we still try to go to see the Spurs play the Pistons every year. I was at my brother’s bachelor party when the Spurs won their first title in 1999. I was out with my sister, Heather, and Brian in San Antonio when they won in 2003. We did the celebratory drive down Military. I watched Game 7 of the Finals alone in my Dallas apartment when the Spurs beat the Pistons in 2005, I can only describe it as bitter sweet. I watched the Spurs win in 2007 in Dallas with Jenn as we were literally packing our things to move to San Antonio.
These memories and the experiences and relationships that are represented within them are catalogued then preserved carefully and done so in close proximity to the core of who I am as a person. In my own weird way, because the San Antonio Spurs are so intrinsically woven into my entire life experience, I internalize the success of the team as barometer of my sense of self and a validation of the people and memories that I hold dear. Admittedly irrational, each victory and defeat is a deeply personal experience despite the fact that my role as a spectator is marginal and removed from directly impacting the results. Is this healthy? Perhaps not, but this deep personal connection and investment in the team is, indeed, one that I hold for better or for worse.
In Five Up, I wrote about the cruelty of “having the trophy so close within reach we could almost scrape a finger nail on it.” Obviously, this was written before Game 7, when I was still filled with hope that the Spurs would bounce back to ultimately win the title anyway. In hindsight, after witnessing Miami edge out San Antonio in the fourth quarter of the decisive game, while I remain pleased with the way that I constructed that sentence as a writer, I am personally haunted by the excruciating imagery of my own prose. Reliving that dreadful Tuesday evening at the AT&T Center has proven to be utter torture. The incomprehensible sequence of events that led to our Game 6 defeat played over and over in my mind for days after Game 7. The nightmare still pops into my head, as if from out of no where, at any random moment to prompt a queasy sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. 28 seconds to go in Game 6, the Spurs were ahead by 5 points and closing in on the 5th championship in franchise history. Over the course of the last 28 seconds, 5 basketball plays occurred that adversely affected the Spurs. Miami secured an offensive rebound off of a missed shot, LeBron James buried a three pointer, Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw, Miami secured an offensive rebound off of a missed shot, Ray Allen buried a float back to the line off balance three pointer with his feet flirting dangerously with the out-of-bounds line. What if even one of those five actions had gone the other way? The San Antonio Spurs would have been the 2013 NBA Champions. And this only scratches the surface of the Pandora’s Box that randomly bursts open in my brain like a sinister jack-in-the-box at some point on a daily basis. Left to my own devices and with time alone inside my own head, ‘what if’ scenarios bounce around my brain like a pinball. What if the NBA had not rejected the 7 year, $100 million contract that the Miami Heat signed Juwan Howard to in 1996? The Miami franchise would have been irreversibly crippled from having signed a mediocre player to a superstar contract, would have likely not have been in the same position to build a championship contending team around Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade a decade later, and the San Antonio Spurs would have probably been the 2013 NBA Champs. What if Ray Allen hadn’t betrayed his loyalty to Kevin Garnet and Paul Pierce and hadn’t left the Boston Celtics to go and sign with the enemy? He would have never hit the dagger three pointer at the end of regulation in Game 6 and the Spurs would have probably been the 2013 NBA Champs. What if LeBron James hadn’t betrayed his loyalty to Cleveland in 2010 and had had the fortitude to continue to trust his own ability by believing that if he remained on the journey to fight to the top of the mountain top with his own teammates, his own franchise, his own city that he would one day persevere? Instead, he took the easy way out by becoming Dwyane Wade’s more talented sidekick. In order for LeBron James to become a champion, he chose to take shortcuts. Had LeBron James had the competitive integrity of Michael Jordan, for example, the match up with the Miami Heat would have never happened and the San Antonio Spurs would have probably been the 2013 NBA Champs. There are hundreds of ‘what if’ scenarios that haunt me into searching for pathways through which the Spurs could have won this year’s championship, but the person that this ‘what if’ scenario will likely wind up haunting the most in the long run is LeBron James, himself. There is a reason why 49 out of 50 states were rooting for the allegedly boring Spurs to win the 2013 NBA Finals. Taking shortcuts in life is not an endearing quality, especially in an all-time great basketball player. All-time great athletes, much like U.S. Presidents, can really only be judged accurately through the prism of history. I suspect that no matter how many championships LeBron James wins as a member of the Miami Heat, history will remember him unfavorably in comparison to the other all-time great champions that he will be measured against because of the shortcuts that he took and I suspect that after his playing days are long behind him, the decision to leave the Cleavland Cavaliers will haunt him immeasurably. Nonetheless, the image of an old LeBron James being tormented by regret as he sits in the rocking chair on his porch is of little consolation right now because in the end, we did lose to that player and that team which makes this defeat even more traumatic to deal with. With the whole country finally squarely behind the small market Spurs, a franchise that genuinely conducts its business the right way, building a team from the ground up and going through the painstaking effort to develop players year after year to remain competitive, it is heartbreaking to lose to a franchise that leveraged all of the space within the salary cap rules to it’s advantage in order to shortcut its way back into contention.
Despite my personal animus with LeBron James’ decision and the way that the Miami Heat put together a championship caliber ball club, give them credit. In a tightly contested Game 7, the Spurs were led by Tim Duncan’s 24 points and 12 rebounds and my player of the game Kawhi Leonard’s 19 points and 16 rebounds, but in the end it was not enough to match the brilliance of James and Dwyane Wade. LeBron scored 37 points and collected 12 rebounds and Wade scored 23 points and collected 10 rebounds. Most importantly, however, the duo made clutch shots in the final moments of a gut wrenching fourth quarter and on the other end of the floor, the Spurs did not. Tim Duncan, one of the most consistently unflappable all-time great players basketball has ever seen, inexplicably missed a bunny of a jump hook over Shane Battier with around a minute left and an opportunity to tie the game. On subsequent Spurs possessions, the physical breakdown of the body of San Antonio’s most beloved player caught up with the Spurs once again as Manu Ginobili was unable to be Manu Ginobili and physically execute the basketball plays that his fearless and brilliant basketball mind was asking him to execute. Furthermore, my predicted ascension of Tony Parker into the conversation of best basketball player in the world hit a speed bump as Tony was unable to assert his will over the outcome of Game 7 up to the level of the lofty standards that that title would expect. Sometimes basketball is just that simple. There is no rational explanation for why, but when two teams are evenly matched, one team executes and the other doesn’t. On the court, the Miami Heat earned the title by being the better team in the fourth quarter of the last game of a series where two teams played each other to a draw in the previous 27 quarters. Congratulations, Miami. And as heartbreaking as this defeat in the NBA Finals was, I’m thankful for having had the experience. The journey to and the experience of having my beloved #BlackAndSilver back in the NBA Finals was such a joy. San Antonio is a special place and I feel truly blessed to have gotten to experience this amazing run with my community. This journey, despite all of the pain which has resulted from its difficult conclusion, has given me a unique opportunity to reflect upon the relationships and memories that have made being a San Antonio Spurs fan such an integral part of my life as well as live new experiences with loved ones and create new memories. Despite the irrationality of it all, I welcome the pain of losing the 2013 NBA Finals in heartbreaking fashion because in the end, being a die-hard Spurs fan is as central to who I am and is a force in my life that contributes as much to my personal happiness as the forces that influence my residence, my career, my friendships, and my family. After all, some more than others, but where I live, the types of people that I work with, who my friends are, and how I relate to my family are all aspects of my personal happiness that have been influenced by my die-hard affinity for the San Antonio Spurs. So, I’ll relish this pain right now and learn to cherish it at some point down the road, but I’m already beginning to feel some of the heartbreak begin to get squeezed out of me by anticipation of the future. I still believe that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker will raise another banner in the AT&T Center. I couldn’t have higher hopes for the San Antonio Spurs in the 2013-14 NBA season. Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Tiago Splitter will be one year further into their development and therefore more seasoned come playoff time. Couple that with the fact that Timmy, Manu, and Tony were, are, and will always remain true champions. Each time that they have experienced a crushing playoff defeat which has arguably cost them a championship [see 2004, 2006], they never jumped ship, nor did the franchise back up a Brink truck to lure in reinforcements, instead they regrouped and came back with the same core group to win the title the next season. It’s always darkest before the dawn. We’ve got next.
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