There’s a ridiculous amount of luck in being a sports fan. There’s bigger picture stuff, like what city you were born in, what team your dad or older brother rooted for or however else you randomly picked your favorite team as a child.
Then there’s the more specific stuff, like who your team happens to trade for or draft, when they’re bad and if it’s the right year for the right guy, if that player stays around, if that player doesn’t get hurt, if that player doesn’t get in trouble.
Nearly all of it is out of your control. You just get to root. Love the good, deal with the bad, move on with your life.
I was ten years old when the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest. I don’t have empirical data to back this up, but I’m about 99% certain that’s the perfect window to fall in love with your favorite players.
As adults, we all have athletes we enjoy watching perform at their sport’s highest points, but none will ever reach the level those guys from our youth did. It was more than simply scoring 20 points or smashing a game-winning homer or rushing for three touchdowns.
They were everything.
And of course, as you grow older, you realize that these guys are just that: guys. Some get hurt, some don’t reach their potential, some have impossibly high expectations and some disappoint you both on and off the court.
Of course, if you’re lucky, you avoid all of that.
I can say, as a Spurs fan my whole conscious life, I was among many that got to be that lucky fan when it came to Tim Duncan.
This isn’t a retrospective on his career or to point out this great game or that incredible stat… There’s enough out there, found easily. This is just acknowledging the luck I was fortunate to have to get to root for Tim Duncan.
He wasn’t the most athletic player, wasn’t the league’s best scorer or best rebounder or best passer. He doesn’t have the most championships or MVPs.
In all honesty, I think I’ll miss him most for what he didn’t do. He didn’t ever get in trouble off the court. He didn’t ever miss the playoffs. He didn’t ever make you feel like he wasn’t giving it his all. He didn’t ever commit a foul (I kid. But, seriously, this may be the one thing he did that consistently rubbed people the wrong way over his 19-year caree). He didn’t pound his chest or point to his ice-water-veins or scream at the top of his lungs after meaningless dunks or and-one’s.
People from the league, all day today, will tell you how he was the consummate teammate and will make arguments for his placement in the pantheon of NBA greats… But this much is certain: he was incredible to root for.
Today as I left my apartment, still well immersed in the Tim-Duncan-is-an-active-NBA-player universe, I tossed on this t-shirt. Well, not exactly that t-shirt. Mine is about 15 years old with a pretty sizable hole under the right armpit. But, same basic concept.
On my ride to the mall (finally able to answer yes to this question), I got two texts in quick succession. One, from the only real Spurs fan I know (also, an adult, like I am) saying “I’m hyperventilating and crying.” I had a sense for what that was about, a sense that was confirmed by the next text I received from my sister, “Just heard the news about Duncan.”
Once I had a chance to fully look at my phone and digest, I was shocked by how the news made me feel. All the videos, all the tributes and the tweets and commentary—we were all discussing him like he’d died, not just that he’d retired.
But in a way, for Spurs fans (and I suppose to some degree NBA fans at large that didn’t hate him per se, but respected from afar) it almost was like he was dying. You won’t see Duncan much, I’d imagine, because that’s simply the kind of guy he is. If there was ever a more perfect summation of a career, it’s Tim Duncan quietly announcing his retirement via the Spurs, who would hold a press conference at which he would not be present.
As a fan, you always want more. One more chance to say good-bye, to watch him lead the team or goof around with the guys. But, deep down, all Spurs fans knew this would be the way it had to go, whenever it had to go.
And that’s the sad part. Not that he’s moving on with his life or that there’s any regrets as to what the last 19 years have brought you as a fan, but that you’ll never be able to go back to that. Your childhood fandom is over, once and for all.
It lasted longer than most, that’s for sure.
And for that, all I can do is be thankful.
Basketball is an unfair game. The better the players are, the more unfair it is.
Never is this more evident than when you watch this early-season version of the Philadelphia 76ers. Sure, they missed reigning Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams for a stretch but, let’s be fair, this isn’t exactly a crack squad with, or without him.
None of that is news, I realize. The Sixers have a plan, and to the delight of the league and their fans, they’re sticking to it. They’re going to stink, quite aggressively, and accumulate as many high picks as they can in the hopes of landing as many cheap, young superstars to kickstart Philly basketball once more.
Frankly, not much is different in theory this year from last. It’s not as if Sam Hinkie and the boys put forth a real effort in rostering last year’s squad. However, having watched a few Sixers games this year already, it’s clear there’s a big difference.
You see, as I alluded to earlier, there are some things about the NBA that are absolute and, as a result, unfair.
Let’s take their game against the Rockets a few weeks ago. In that game, Dwight Howard will always be taller and quicker than Henry Sims or Brandon Davies. James Harden will always be stronger and quicker than Hollis Thompson. I could go on and on with this Sixers roster, but I think you get my point: there is a base level of talent (mainly, speed/heigh/strength) that’s needed to compete on a night-in, night-out basis in the NBA. This Sixers team doesn’t have it.
In watching that very game, the Sixers were actually in it for a good stretch towards the end, down by as little as four points. But, as I watched, it occurred to me that they simply do not have the manpower or ability to score or defend enough to win games. That’s hilariously simplistic, but it’s true. The people they employ, by and large, simply aren’t NBA players.
One of them looks like he won a fan contest to be on the team. Another one has JK right in his name as if he’s in on the joke. Another one has a name so simple there’s no way he’s anything but a made-up video game character from the NBA 2K world. There’s even two guys on the team who seem like the TJ Maxx, bootleg version of actual NBA players (him and him)
Let’s be fair: last year, despite the organization’s intentions, there were at least 4 actual NBA players on the team. Say what you will about them specifically, but Thad Young, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and MCW are at the least guys that you could put on other NBA teams and feel confident that they could at least play. Like, actually play.
This year? You’ve got Carter-Williams, a rookie in Nerlens Noel (who I’ll count to be fair) and Tony Wroten. That’s three guys and only one shorter than last year’s total… but not one of those guys has played more than one NBA season. And the rest of the roster, honestly, would be fucking thrilled to be 8th men on any other team. Some of these guys (I’m looking at you JaKarr Sampson) aren’t actually rosterable players on real NBA teams.
I write about this now because at the beginning of the year, the Sixers over/under went off at 15.5 games. At the time I thought, for sure, there’s no way they can’t win 16 games. A few schedule favors, some hot play from this guy or that guy… boom. But, having watched them, I get the sense that if the league privately told every other team to really give Philly their best shot every time to prove the point that tanking wasn’t acceptable (as seemed to be the case when San Antonio and Dallas beat them by a combined 78 points), the Sixers wouldn’t win a game. Seriously, not one.
Even Krusty the Clown wouldn’t bet on these guys. And you know what, I wouldn’t blame him.
For some reason, I had the idea for this post in a dream last week. I’m not sure what that says more about… how fucked up my dreams are or how pathetic my life is that I’m actually dreaming about posts for a shitty blog. I’ll get back to you when I get an official answer.
As I’ve said before, I’m an NBA fan. Serious NBA fan. The kind of fan that would watch my team (the Spurs) play the Hornets in April over watching Syracuse (the school I attended) play any game outside of the Final Four. The kind of fan that avidly checks twitter to see if Eddy Curry is going to make the squad (sadly, he didn’t and this sort of puts his whole career into perspective), the kind of fan that thinks about rescheduling a date with a girl if it conflicts with his fantasy basketball draft, the kind of fan that is just as excited about the one game not on TV on opening night (Wizards and Cavs) as I am about the two that are (Heat, Celts and Mavs, Lake show). You get the point.
I actually own (and I’m not proud to admit this) an Eddy Curry Bull jersey. A red number two, hanging in the former room of one Scott A. Spinelli back home with my parents. I remember, distinctly, taping the Baby Bulls games (remember when that was an actual thing? the idea that was actually ever, ever going to work… drafting two high school big men to compete together in the NBA, amongst men… jesus h. christ) to get a taste of who I thought was going to be one of the more unstoppable offensive big men during his career.
Now, 11 years later, it appears as if he’s just about done. And that’s a sad thing.