City of Blinding Lights – It has been quite a long time since the San Antonio Spurs have had a superstar basketball player on our roster who was born on the American mainland. 29 years to be exact. “How could this be?” you ask. Well, Tony Parker obviously doesn’t fit that criteria. He was born in Bruges, Belgium on May 17, 1982. Manu Ginobili obviously doesn’t fit the criteria either. He was born in Bahía Blanca, Argentina on July 28, 1977. “Tim Duncan?” Although he was born a U.S. Citizen, it is pretty well universally known among basketball fans that he doesn’t fit the criteria either. Timmy was born in Christiansted, United States Virgin Islands on April 25, 1976. “Hold on, surely David Robinson was born on the American mainland, right? After all, he postponed beginning his NBA career for two years to finish his commitment to the United States Navy. His nickname is the Admiral. He is practically Captain America.” Actually, while David Robinson was born in the continental United States, even he does not fit the criteria because he was born on the island of Key West, Florida on August 6, 1965. So there you have it. The last player to fit the criteria was a nine time NBA All-Star, made the All-NBA First Team five times, and was a four time NBA scoring champion. He stopped playing for the franchise in 1985 and his number 44 jersey has been hanging from the rafters in the AT&T Center (the Alamodome and HemisFair Arena previously) for quite some time. As far as being born on the American mainland and also going on the become a superstar basketball player for the San Antonio Spurs is concerned, George Gervin, who was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 27, 1952, might finally have some company. 22 year old Kawhi Leonard, who was born in Riverside, California on June 29, 1991 (six years after The Iceman played his last game for the franchise), had a performance Tuesday night on basketball’s biggest stage that just might have cemented his ascension to superstar basketball player status. Leonard scored 29 points on 10-13 shooting (3-6 from deep) in Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals to spearhead a 111-92 Spurs road victory over the Heat at American Airlines Arena in Miami. Thanks in large part to the performance of Kawhi, home court advantage in the series has officially been grabbed right back.
Not only did Kawhi shoot lights out, but he also collected 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocked shots while playing stellar defense the entire game on the world’s best basketball player. LeBron James was limited to 22 points and committed an uncharacteristic seven turnovers with Leonard draped all over him for big stretches of the game. After two games in this series and a split at home, San Antonio Spurs fans had been worried because Kawhi’s performance had not been able to rival the breathtaking showcase of his abilities as a two-way player he had unleashed during the 2013 NBA Finals (averaging 17 points and 11 rebounds). For Games 1 & 2 of the 2014 NBA Finals, Kawhi put up only 9 points and 2 rebounds in each game and was in constant foul trouble committing 9 personal fouls in 56 minutes and fouling out of Game 2. He seemed tentative with his decision making back in San Antonio and he was allowing James to be the aggressor in their one-on-one match up on both ends of the floor. It is no secret that the acquisition of the draft rights for Kawhi Leonard during the 2012 NBA draft is one of the primary reasons that the Spurs have reemerged as championship contenders over the past couple of seasons. Coming into Game 3, Spurs fans knew that it would be extremely difficult for us to win a road game against the two-time defending champions if we continued to get the tentative Kawhi from Game 1 & 2. We knew that we needed the beast-mode Kawhi from the 2013 Finals and Tuesday night we got that and then some. Whi played a breathtaking game and asserted himself as a dominant force from the jump by hitting his first six shots on his way to scoring 16 points in the first quarter and outdueling LeBron in the process (James had 14 first quarter points). Leonard, as the primary defender on James, then proceeded to hold LeBron to only eight points over the course of the final three periods. Kawhi clearly was on a mission on Tuesday to make up for his earlier struggles in the series and his superstar performance made him the runaway choice for player of the game. By the way, only two other players in NBA history have scored 29 or more points in an NBA Finals game before enjoying their 23rd birthdays. Their names? Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant. Last night, Kawhi Leonard: NBA superstar may just have indeed arrived.
Yes, the Spurs might actually have our first NBA superstar on the roster that was born on the American mainland since George Gervin in 1985. In fact, in this period that constitutes R.C. Buford’s tenure running the franchise’s basketball operations, I would venture with near certainty that the San Antonio Spurs have had the fewest American basketball players suit up for our team of any franchise in the league. I can’t imagine that it is even close. You would be hard pressed to find a better collection of international athletic talent on display any where in the world over the past 10 years than the basketball roster that the Spurs have sent on the court night in and night out and currently have competing in the NBA Finals. Thinking about the Wild International uniqueness of the Spurs yesterday, I was reminded of a preseason game I attended a few years back with my best friend, Brian and my wife, Jenn. I knew that I had tweeted before that particular game so I used my Twitter feed to help me remember when it took place. It turns out that it was a preseason game that occurred as we were embarking upon the 2009-2010 season. On a side note, after locating the tweet I also realized just how long ago 2009 was technologically. If I had had a fully developed Twitter game back in the fall of 2009, the tweet from that day would have looked slightly different:
Going to the Spurs game tonight. Seats on the 15th row. 2nd best seats I've ever had. Pop better play Timmy, Manu, and Tony.
— Ted James (@tedjames) October 9, 2009
After scrolling back through my Twitter feed to 2009, I almost chuckled remembering how primitive my skills at using the platform were back then. Knowing what I know now as an unverified Twitter ninja, the tweet would have probably been reworded and abbreviated so that it could have also included @thebdub and @JHook528 and #GoSpursGo. This would have made for a much more nostalgic trip back down #MemoryLane (You see what I did there? Ninja skills). At any rate, what prompted me to think about a random preseason game yesterday was that it had served as an interesting opportunity to watch the best international basketball club in the world actually play another international club. The Spurs took on Olympiacos Piraeus B.C. at the AT&T Center that night. I remember that the three of us had an amazing time watching an interesting game. What stood out to me about the game, more than anything, was that because we had been fortunate enough to have unbelievable seats on the 15th row, we were close enough to the court to hear the players communicate. To my surprise, I heard less English from the Spurs at times than I heard from the Olympiacos squad led by Josh Childress. The current version of the Spurs is even more international than those teams at the beginning of the decade. Despite all of the English As a Second Language (EASL) barriers that the Spurs have had to work around each and every season during the R.C. Buford era, it is quite obvious that basketball (at the least the way its played in San Antonio) is a universal language. The San Antonio Spurs, in the truest sense of the word, are the world’s best basketball team.
As often happens, reflecting on one positive memory triggers the remembrance of another. That night, after the game, Brian came over to Jenn and my house to partake in another one of our other favorite past times along with rooting for the Spurs…barbequing. On countless occasions after Jenn and I had bought our house in 2008, Brian came back into town to kick back with us, have a few cold ones, listen to music, and eat. If we were grilling food on a Friday or Saturday night and there was any possibility that Brian could get away from Austin, he was there. Sometimes we would have large gatherings of friends over to barbeque at the house. Other times it was just the three of us. Either way, there was nothing more enjoyable than hanging out with Brian late into the night on our deck (or before we built it, in the driveway) discussing politics, music, and of course the Spurs. Brian and I were known to overdo it from time to time. Every once and a while, a few cold ones turned into a few too many. One of those nights was on the eve of the 2009 Inauguration of Barack Obama. Brian and I were so excited about the historic event we were about to witness the next morning that we just stayed up right through the night. As the sun was rising on the morning of January 20, 2009, Brian and I were wide awake, deep in conversation, and listening to music. One of the songs that I distinctly remember us listening to during that brilliant sunrise was a song that had become somewhat of an Obama for America campaign theme song: “City of Blinding Lights” by U2. Memories have a funny way of fusing together the things that you miss about the important people you have lost. I miss listening to music with my best friend. I miss watching the Spurs with my best friend. In reverence to these things that are now absent in my life, the songs that appear in this year’s edition of the Black And Silver blog series originate from a playlist entitled Brian’s Cuts that I created for his memorial party.
San Antonio put on an historic exhibition of basketball on Tuesday night during the first half of a game played under the blinding lights of the city that boasted an undefeated home record in American Airlines Arena during the 2014 NBA playoffs heading into Game 3. We scored 41 points in the first quarter. We scored 71 points in the first half. We made an NBA Finals record 75.8 percent of the shots that we attempted in those two quarters. It was a beautiful display of sharing the basketball that happens only once upon a dream. As perfection is an unobtainable pursuit in an endeavor as complex as an playing an NBA basketball game, the 2014 San Antonio Spurs may never reach Revolution 1: the art of teamwork perfected, but during the first half of Game 3 we seemed hellbent on trying. That was probably about as close to a perfect display of team basketball as has ever been seen on a stage as grand as the NBA Finals. Hopefully, since we came up a little short of perfection (missing 24.2 percent of our shots by the end of the half), the Spurs can make another run at perfection tonight. We are going to have to play even better than we did on Tuesday in order to return home from Miami unscathed and to give ourselves an opportunity to close out the champs at home on Sunday. While tonight’s game is a must-win for the Miami Heat, in my opinion it is also a must-win for us. Miami has proven over and over again that they will make you pay for allowing them to hang in a series in which you’ve had the early upper hand. Yes, it is becoming harder and harder to argue the fact that the Spurs are the best team in the NBA. San Antonio has won two games in this series by sharing the basketball and relying on our cohesion as a collection of international talent to overwhelm the Heat in those two contests. The Heat, however, still have the best basketball player in the world and were able to win Game 2 because of his determination and his brilliance. The longer a series is prolonged, the better the chance that the best player has of imposing his will to outlast the best team.
The reason for this is that the longer that the best player is able to keep his teammates afloat, the more confident they will become in their own abilities to help him persevere thus elevating their entire group closer to the level of the better team. Once the two teams are playing on closer to an equal footing, the lesser team has a much better chance of utilizing the best player in the world to steal the series. We have seen that movie before and I am not interested in seeing a sequel. The heartbreak of Game 6 much less LeBron James’ series clinching jumper in Game 7 last year never happen if the Spurs had somehow found the energy and resilience to match the Heat’s desperation in Game 4 and impose our will. Tonight it will be even more difficult than it was last year because Miami has the added advantage of playing Game 4 at home. We are facing an extraordinary challenge tonight against the defending champs. I believe, however, that if the #BlackAndSilver continue to play our wild international brand of basketball in pursuit of Revolution 1, we will be up for the challenge. We came to Miami this week for redemption, not for a split. The juicy gossip on South Beach is that there might be a new superstar coming to town next season. What is being overlooked in all the hysteria surrounding the possible completion of the Heatles is that, perhaps, there is a new superstar in Miami at this very moment. Even when your game is as American as apple pie and as smooth as ice, when you are quieter than Tim Duncan sometimes it takes a while for people to take notice that the thing that makes you a superstar is playing your role to help your team play winning basketball in the most hostile environments and for the biggest stakes. Kawhi Leonard, you might just be the brightest star in the city of blinding lights tonight.
Featured Image Source: Atchim