They Can't All Be Winners, Part 29: San Antonio Spurs

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The Spurs are the league’s magnetic north. Each offseason, some large handful of woebegone franchises vow to be more Spurs-like: they poach Gregg Popovich’s assistant coaches, copy the team’s draft strategy, mimic their on-court style. When the Hawks were in peak form last season, they were dubbed Spurs East, a compliment that flattered San Antonio more than it did Atlanta. It is like how, in Donald Trump’s warped mind, the noblest people are the ones who love and seek to emulate him, or how, during Peyton Manning’s prime, Manningesque became a perfect synonym for great quarterbacking.

In fact: Spurs-like(adj.) — having one’s shit utterly together.

A thing you realize once you become an adult and get out in the world is no one has a blessed clue what they’re doing. We are, all of us, to one degree or another, making our way through life by educated guesses and blind stabs, trying to do the best job we can with incomplete knowledge and insufficient talent. This being one of the more discouraging aspects of the human condition, we have a tendency to push it to one side in the form of pointing to high-achieving people and contending, with some relief, that they have it all under control, as if they have some cosmic cheat code in their back pocket, as if they are happy and productive all the time and don’t get the shits from Thai food and don’t worry that their children might hate them.

After nearly two decades of title runs and stability, the Spurs have acquired an air of inherent correctness, not least of all because there is perhaps no arena in which people are more gullible about there being a metaphysically right way to go about one’s business than sports. Everything the Spurs do, from their fluid, pass-heavy offense to their shrewd offseason signings, is refracted through the prism of their past successes and determined to be smart, or savvy, or forward-thinking. Fans and writers gush about even the most ordinary or puzzling moves the Spurs make, like 17th century Puritans pretending to be able to perceive moral character. The team could employ a four-man lineup for every regular season game catch praise for conserving Tony Parker’s legs.

Of course, the Spurs are absurdly good at nearly all of the things people claim they are good at. What’s irksome about them is more the straining-to-seem-knowing dipshits who scribble Popovich and company’s gospels than the franchise itself. (Which is why it’s so charmingly truthful when Pop deflates the mythos with a shrug and a quote about how we try stuff and sometimes it works.) The numerous metaphorical statues built and veneratory sonnets composed in the Spurs’ honor are credit the bright and capable folks running the organization and the splendid athletes who play for it deserve paid out in triplicate, but they are also lies people tell themselves about how the world works, because they want to believe in the possibility of complete competence, of demigodly specialness.

It would be merely annoying if this was a thing people thought only about teams, players, and coaches. Sportsworld is a place that brooks and embraces childish facileness. It is where we got the phrase “giving 110 percent” from; it is staggeringly idiotic. But you can hear, in the way folks tout Gregg Popovich’s infallibility, echoes of the here-comes-our-messiah claptrap which sweeps inevitably disappointing politicians into office, or, even more malignantly, the doltish claims that Bill Cosby can’t be a serial rapist because those transgressions don’t jibe with the legend of Cliff Huxtable. You can see lessons we continually learn and forget about treating extraordinary people as if they don’t exist on the spectrum of humanity.

Ultimately, all the Spurs-fawning doesn’t matter—they’re a basketball team, not a civil rights organization—but they exist as they do in the popular imagination because we won’t admit that life is too difficult to master. The Spurs are tremendously accomplished, remarkably consistent, and the biggest lie going in American sports. Our fragility has made them stronger than they could truly ever be.

Previously on TCABW: Charlotte Hornets | Philadelphia 76ers | Houston Rockets | Los Angeles Lakers | Dallas Mavericks Indiana Pacers | Oklahoma City Thunder | Memphis Grizzlies | Chicago Bulls | Washington Wizards Cleveland Cavaliers Brooklyn Nets New York Knicks Denver Nuggets Miami Heat Los Angeles Clippers Atlanta Hawks Utah Jazz Sacramento Kings Milwaukee Bucks Toronto Raptors Detroit Pistons New Orleans Pelicans Phoenix Suns Boston Celtics Orlando Magic Portland Trail Blazers | Minnesota Timberwolves

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