Friday, May 11, 2007

Breaking News: Spurs Get More Calls

Okay, the title was just to get your attention. I have proof of nothing and this is not news (and even if it was, it wouldn't be of the "breaking" variety). It is merely the long-promised post where I theorize the "why" part of this whole "The Spurs get all the calls" examination.

The other night I tried my best to objectively watch every single close call in Game Two, to see if San Antonio was really getting the benefit of the whistles. I admit this is conjecture and opinion and everything else you could use to assail the results, but the findings seemed to indicate that the Spurs enjoyed a sizable advantage when it came to the officiating. And this was on a night where the Suns actually got more breaks than a normal S.A. opponent and that featured a fourth quarter blowout that took the refs out of play. Many in the comments section and in emails have surmised that if the Spurs still enjoyed a healthy advantage in that game, it only proves how massive the edge is on a normal night.

That said, the little "study" I performed (and likely will never repeat due to the six hours it took to watch the game) doesn't really prove anything. All it does is reinforce something that many basketball fans already think: that San Antonio gets more calls than anyone. More to the point, that the Spurs are able to get away with more fouls than any other team in the NBA.

The "why" is of far more interest to me, because it seems almost impossible to explain. Why indeed? The Spurs don't have many likable players. There are stars on the roster, but not much star power in the traditional NBA sense. They are in a small market. They were involved in two NBA Finals this decade (2003 against New Jersey and 2005 against Detroit) that basically nobody watched.

If the Spurs are really getting all these calls (or all these no-calls), which it seems they are, then the explanation would have to be something along the lines of a conspiracy theory, right? The NBA has to "want" this. But as I just pointed out, there appears to be no reason at all why the NBA would want the Spurs to advance year after year, and certainly no reason to instruct its officials to make that happen, at the risk of a major scandal.

So if the league isn't mandating it, what other explanation could there be?

Ultimately, I've narrowed down a few possibilities to one thing and it was suggested the other day by my brother, Drew. He opined that the referees simply process San Antonio's actions differently than they do the actions of other teams. In other words, they've seen Bruce Bowen foul so many times, on so many plays, for so many years, that they just view a Bruce Bowen play differently at this point. Bruce Bowen shoving an offensive player or grabbing a guy's leg looks normal after all these years.

In a previous blog - while hinting at conclusion I would reach in this post - I used the phrase "systematic desensitization." I like it because it sounded good, but also because there might be some truth to it.

Think of television shows. When we watch 24 (or, I guess, when we used to watch 24), Jack Bauer can bit a guy's neck or shoot someone in the face or hang a terrorist with a big metal chain and we barely bat an eye. Spartan warriors can slice off the heads of Xerxes' Immortals and we are are impassive. Yet when Bear Grylls kneels down to chew on some raw zebra flesh during an episode of Man v. Wild, it is enough to cause us to recoil in horror. This is a result of desensitization. We see people get killed on TV all the time, but we don't often watch stranded men devouring the flanks of zebras. So the former is just background noise while the latter is jolting. I'm not bringing this up to blame entertainment for all of society's woes, or anything like that, merely pointing out that we can indeed become desensitized to seeing certain things.

And it seems to follow that the same thing could happen to NBA officials. They are used to Vince Carter avoiding contact at all cost, so when he puts his head down in the lane, they are jolted and start thinking "charge" right away. But if LeBron goes crashing into the lane, they probably have to fight off a yawn. You are far more likely to see James get the benefit of a close call when he flies into the paint, and you will probably also see a lot more no-calls in those situations. They are just used to it. But a Vince Carter collision is like a Yeti sighting - so rare that there is no built-in reaction.

For another comparison, take Bruce Bowen and Quentin Ross. Bowen has been mauling offensive players for years, so nothing really jumps out at you. A forearm to the neck, two hands to the ribs, a foot slid under a shooter, two hands wrapped around a rolling screener, a leg whip ... we've seen it all before. But when Ross came into the league doing a lot of the same things, he was getting called for more fouls than anyone. The guy could barely stay on the court. The refs simply weren't used to it. Now Ross has been around for a while and I'm already noticing that he's getting away with more. A lot more. Part of it is no doubt based on "reputation" and I'm sure Ross has learned a few tricks, but the bigger factor seems to be that refs just get used to it and, in a way, become immune to certain conduct.

Which brings this back to the Spurs. Many have commented over the years on the benefit San Antonio enjoys from having Pop on the bench year after year. There is consistency, a sense of structure, and a collective memory in San Antonio that gives them a big advantage over other teams in the NBA. However, the long reign of Pop might have created another substantial, hard-to-prove, and often overlooked advantage: favorable officiating.

It seems entirely possible that the Spurs have worked to get to this point. That is, when Pop took over, I doubt they got the kind of calls and no-calls that they get now. But he insisted on a physical style of play and stuck with it. And over time, the refs became used to that style of play. They know - even if it isn't conscious knowledge - that every Spurs player is going to push and nudge and clutch and do a little flopping. And they've become so used to seeing it, so hardened and immune to it, so desensitized, that they just no longer recognize it for what it is. This is why I call it "systematic desensitization." Because it is a slow process that has taken place over time, possibly by design.

I can almost imagine Pop lording over a San Antonio practices back in the late 90's saying, "Listen, we're going to get called for a lot of fouls right now. But just stick with it, eventually they won't even notice it anymore."

Indeed, Pop's first full season on the bench (1997-98) saw the Spurs get called for 1,731 personal fouls. By the time Bruce Bowen had a "full" (2,000 minuets) season in San Antonio, that number was down to 1672 in 2002-03. This year, San Antonio got called for just 1,588 fouls. This, despite the fact that the league average for personal fouls has remained pretty constant (22.4 per game in 1997-98, 21.8 in 2002-03, and 22.3 this year). These are obviously rudimentary numbers, but they do tell a bit of a story; and one that seems to reinforce the idea that the Spurs have built a system that - over time - has created a certain immunity where personal fouls are concerned.

And that is how we reach the place we are at now. When the Spurs can literally commit dozens of fouls each night without getting the attention of the refs, the pundits, the fans, or even the opposition. Oh sure, many fans - especially opposing fans - get a sense that something is amiss, and there are probably a few players who shake their heads and wonder why it always seems like the Spurs are getting the calls, but for the most part, nobody seems to take mushc notice.

Well, this might be why. We are all just used to it. Immune. Desensitized.

And - Bruce Bowen aside - my conclusion is that this is far from cheating on the part of the Spurs or a conspiracy on the part of the NBA. It is sheer genius by Coach Pop. And you know what? San Antonio probably deserves it. When you find the best coach in the league and then keep him for the next decade, you have a right to enjoy these sorts of advantages. NBA seasons don't exist in a vacuum, but istead, string together over time. And keeping the same coach and players and style of play is bound to produce benefits. This appears to be one of them.

Okay, now I feel better about things.


Garry Shuck said...

I think there is definite merit to the idea of selective desensitization towards various team’s tendencies. The Suns were known for years as a jump-shooting team, so when they went to the hole they didn’t get calls. The Pistons are lumped in there with San Antonio as a tough defensive team, so they’re allowed a bit more contact inside.

I don’t want to pile too much more on the “Bruce Bowen is dirty” story, you’ve done a pretty solid job here and just about every NBA message board outside of San Antonio is full of posts arguing that he is, but I will say that the opening sequence in game 2 of Bowen repeated hacking at Nash above the 3-point line was pretty stunning. As an NBA fan you watch that and say “Wow, I thought that kind of hand-checking was a foul these days”, but clearly they were letting it go.

Aaron said...

I notice the same thing with the Suns. What are we always told? The team that's more aggressive and goes to the hole gets more calls.

Well, the Suns are #2 in points in the paint this year, and #30 in free throw attempts!!!!

The Jazz are #1 in points in the paint and #2 in free throw attempts.

At first it may seem that the Suns are #2 in points in the paint because of their fast break points. However, Denver gets more fast break points than the Suns but is #26 in points in the paint. So all those Suns points in the paint aren't coming from fast breaks. What gives?

I think the previous statement was accurate. The Suns are known as a jump shooting team. Despite the fact that they are #2 in points in the paint!

Pair that lack of calls, with the no calls on SA and it's a disasterous combination for Phoenix. Suns fans must be so infuriated when they watch the Suns play the Spurs.

Cash said...

Yes, we are. Thanks for understanding.

Excellent post, as was the precursor.

Stephan said...

Soo true.. Thanks for the observation. For a suns fan its agonizing. During that play where ginobili held Amares legs I tossed my remote across the room. I thought i was gonna explode. Imagine being on the cout and having to play a team like that.

alivenbreathing said...

This is deplorable, maybe the author considers Karl Rove's political antics 'sheer genius' and gerrymandering and lifelong activist judge appointees 'benefits'. I also love 'Bruce Bowen aside', classic double talk. for one to do said research and come to said findings and not be outraged is only a reflection of your own desensitization and indifference to cheating and going against rules that are mostly in place for the safety of individuals who millions of people pay good money to see perform. I've been watching basketball for 20 years, lived in bball meccas like LA, NYC, Chicago and in Phoenix and watched all teams go through hell to get to the finals. The Suns are one of the most likable and watchable teams of all four major sports from the last three decades, and for that to be threatened by Bowen and his little kicks while opponents have their backs turned is a bad sign for this playoffs. I hope the Spurs and the Pistons get their rematch, because NO ONE will watch it outside of Motortown and the Alamo, and the old man will be snoring.

Mike said...

I'm a Kings fan and agree, at least, with the conclusion that teams can earn a reputation for being physical which may allow them to get away with more - and that isn't a bad thing. In fact, I've been bothered that the Kings haven't been able to build that kind of reputation (and it's not just a matter of perception but of reality - they have been a little soft).

I get the feeling that in that the Spurs get additional calls, they have earned them by playing hard, physical and tough every game, regular season and playoffs, for years. By not appearing to 'turn it on' or change their approach, nothing looks glaring.

And I find nothing wrong with that. Heck, I'd rather have teams be rewarded for playing hard all the time instead of just trying to play hard for a few games in the playoffs.

Mike said...

In addition... I think it's a little like pitchers in baseball getting the benefit of a call if they prove they know the strike zone. The Spurs are Glavine and Maddux in the 90s.

Greg said...

I totally agree - right up to the conclusion - that this is "OK". Who wants to watch the Spurs play this style - no one except die hard Spurs fans. Certainly not Magic based on his comments during the Suns Spurs series where all he did was say how great it was to see up tempo (showtime) basketball again. Does the end justify the means? Or in this case does the means (San Antonio's smart focus discipline) justify the ends - no way. Pop is ruining the game of basketball. My 'appreciation' doesn't carry through to 'watching'. We're heading to Spurs - Jazz. I'd rather get a root canal!

Greg said...

OK, I read what alivenbreathing said and they're right - even I am suffering from desensitization - not only is it unwatchable - its just plain wrong! The officials need to make the calls. Bowen needs to be fouled out in the first quater then we can all watch basketball.

Jordan J said...

BOTTOM LINE: The San Antonio Spurs have the highest winning percentage of any NBA, NFL, NHL, or MLB team over the last TEN years. That is a decade, an eternity in the world of pro sports. For this reason I can understand the large number of folks out there who over the past few years in particular have become Spurs "haters". It is natural to root for the underdog, and to want to see the mighty fall. That is why with each year that the Spurs continue to be successful, more and more people will jump on the "hater" bandwagon.

I get it... You are all fed up with watching this team that plays in a small market, a city that you all consider just another shitty podunk, Texas town (even though it is the 7th largest in the country). You are tired of watching a style of play that you have categorized as "boring", and players that are not "exciting" because they don't beat their wives or say ignorant shit to the media. You are sick of a coach and a system that has remained intact over a span of time that has seen other franchises remake themselves several times over. You are ready for a team that has more "talent" than the Spurs to reach there level of success, even though the trio of Tim, Tony, and Manu is perhaps the most talented in the league. All in all you hate the Spurs for all the wrong reasons, and if you had any sense, you would wonder why your teams could not be more like the Spurs.

From the top down, the Spurs are perhaps one of the most humble teams in the league. Anyone who has ever watched a Popovich interview or press conference would be able to see that. Tim Duncan is the most humble superstar-athlete any of us have ever seen. His career performance has been nothing short of spectacular, and yet he does not act as if he is the least bit special. "Haters" find this boring... to a Spurs fan however, this is the essence of what makes the team great. They approach every season the same way, refusing to accept that they have accomplished anything. They make the Championship their goal each year, but realize that it will take an 82 game season of playing hard for 48 minutes each game to put themselves in position to even have a chance at it. For all of your claims that the Spurs are impossible to watch, and that they are in fact what is wrong with the NBA, the fact is that they go about it the RIGHT way, and they have won doing so.

So go ahead and complain one more time that the Spurs consistently get more help from the referees than any other team in the league. I can understand this because it is the only way you can possibly justify the Spurs success without an admission that perhaps they are doing something right. As a "hater" that would be unthinkable right? Thought so. I would like to suggest that just maybe you could all be putting some of the negative energy you put into your criticisms of the Spurs in these blogs into some constructive comments on how other teams that you would rather see succeed could go about doing so.

The Spurs are the only major sports franchise in San Antonio and this has led to a very special relationship between the team and it's community of fans. But that relationship is just as importantly founded on a respect that the city has for a team that wins without gloating, loses without pointing fingers, and humbly maintains it's position as the pinnacle of sports franchises, the model to which all others look towards for direction (see Dallas, Cleveland et al). And if this makes them an easy target for the fans of less successful teams... we will take that trade off any day... and so would you.

James said...

It's funny how non-Spur fans try to objectively look at the game and try to get the game to be called right, while Spur fans immediately fling insults and defend how well their teams have played. People watch basketball to watch players play a hard, fair game. It's not the UFC, we watch a game with set rules and ethics. If they are not followed, it is not a fair game, and what fun is it to watch a game that is skewed towards one side?

Dave McNulla said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dave McNulla said...

that why theory doesn't make any sense. the game is played at too fast of a level for officials to spend time thinking about who is doing the action and whether it's normal to them or not. they call what they see.

i think another viable theory would be that fans of other teams are jealous of the spurs' success. the spurs have no flashy stars, they don't create a lot of sound bites, they don't have a large audience, they don't spends gobs of money. why do they get to have so much success? it's not fair. the fans' minds process things differently when they see the spurs play.

Adam Hoff said...

Thanks for all the comments. I've been out of town and away with from the World Wide Web, so I haven't had a chance to throw in some comments. I will note only that I don't mean to insinuate that I somehow support the Spurs if they really are trying to coach fouling or gain an unfair advantage. What I'm saying is that if they do enjoy an advantage - and I think they do - it seems to be coming merely from organization loyalty. There are dozens of coaches who liked a more physical style and given 10 years to refine a system and keep the wheels turning, they would probably subconsciously wear down officials too. So if the Spurs get this one advantage as a benefit for keeping the same coach and a lot of the same players for almost a decade, it makes me less angry about it. Because at least a bad result is coming from something decent, which is loyalty and commitment - rare qualities in sports.

All of that said, I'm not a resident of either state of a fan of either team, but I prefer the Suns style of play - as do most NBA fans of neither team, I suspect - and would like to see them win. So I apologize if my conclusion didn't convey the proper point.

I guess what I was trying to say is that I'm happier thinking that it isn't some giant, unexplainable conspiracy.

Michael said...

First of all, I do appreciate the work Adam has done. The effort is admirable and the intentions are 100% in the right spot.

To everyone: Go back and look at the self-proclaimed "objectively" procured "analysis" on which this conclusion is based upon (a type of analysis that has been carried by the author once in his lifetime, and so, presumably, for only one spurs game in the hell this guy draws his conclusion on an entire decade of spurs history and a handful of recent years on his one, significantly biased analysis is difficult to understand).

"It's funny how non-Spur fans try to objectively look at the game and try to get the game to be called right"

I haven't seen an "objective" analysis yet (this includes the author's own, independent analysis). Seriously, how many people here actually went back and verified his "analysis," with the game film (not just based on their recollections of the game they watched)? And even without doing that, how can you honestly say this guy's analysis is unbiased and objective, after looking at just the language of his report?

This post and its conclusion seems fairly reasonable in and of itself. But the analysis that it is rooted in, at best, has a number of holes in it.

Anonymous said...

From the post:

"And this was on a night where the Suns actually got more breaks than a normal S.A. opponent and that featured a fourth quarter blowout that took the refs out of play."

How do you know that this is even different from what you call is "normal for an S.A. opponent"?? Didn't you say this was the first and only time you would do an analysis like this? And wasn't the reason for you doing this in the first place was that you claimed that one can never really tell or prove that the calls are biased without such an analysis as you carried out? So, if you haven't done the same analysis in all of the other spurs games in the past 8-10 years (or even ONE other game), how do you come to this conclusion??

I'm not trying to pick a fight at all and I respect what you've set out to do, but I think these are valid questions that I'm raising. Do these questions qualify as "objectively looking" at things, James (a commenter from above)?

I am a pretty loyal spurs fan, as you can tell. But that most definitely doesn't mean I can't look at things from a critically objective point of view, which I think I have done with the analysis offered here.

Anonymous said...

So the Spurs get all the calls for the last decade. Go back and look at the Spurs/Mavericks film from last year and tell me again how the Spurs get all the calls. Do you have this statiscally mapped out. I believe your remark about the Spurs getting all the calls has about as much relavency as the remark about the referees making racist calls.


Adam Hoff said...

The last few comments are very valid points. In fact, after setting out to try to objectively analyze this in Game Two, I am of the opinion that it is just too hard. So many calls in the NBA are judgment calls, which means opinion and bias are inherent. This post, the theory part of it, is more or less a "IF it is true that the Spurs get more calls" (which I happen to believe, even if I can't prove), then why would this be? Many, many basketball fans make the claim that S.A. gets all the whistles (with exceptions, like for some of those games against Dallas), but couldn't tell you why. This was just a theory on a possible why.

I absolutely recognize that there is probably no way to prove the Spurs do enjoy such an advantage and it seems even less likely that you could prove wy it is happening. But that is what makes conjecture and theory so much fun.

And don't forget, the net result of my conclusion is that I actually respect the Spurs a little more for displaying such organizational discipline and loyalty ... even if I would prefer that Bruce Bowen consult a rulebook. As always, solid comments.

n said...

I'd buy the systemic desensitization theory. An analogy to the mid-90s NJ Devils would apply - they had one of the best goalies & two of the best D-men in the league. How to maximise that? Neutral zone trapping - which consists of holding, grabbing and impeding the opposition's forwards as they try to make progress up the ice. Consistently against the rules, but there are only so many calls a referee will make against one team in a row for "minor" off-the-puck infractions. Unfortunately, they won the Cup and rendered hockey basically unwatchable as other imitated...

Anonymous said...

The Spurs get more calls...interesting. Obviously, the NBA wants the Spurs in the finals because they get such big ratings. Look, if you wanted to analyze the Spurs and the refs, especially for the last 10 years, go back and look at some of the Lakers v. Spurs games then tell me the refs give more calls to the Spurs. Isn't this just another conspiracy, except this one makes no sense? The last thing the NBA wants is the Spurs in the finals. They are the only team in NBA history who wins the championship and doesn't even get featured on the opening night of major network coverage (the NBA chose the Lakers v. the Heat instead).
One last thing: saying that, "hey, I gave credit to the Spurs for creating the system", ("And don't forget, the net result of my conclusion is that I actually respect the Spurs a little more for displaying such organizational discipline and loyalty ... even if I would prefer that Bruce Bowen consult a rulebook.") is like Ricky Bobby saying anything the hell he wanted to because he prefaced it, "with all due respect." I'm simply not buying the false sincerity.

Jiong said...

thanks Adam for the effort, even though i don't see how the end results will be affected. but hold on...

if we do believe there'll be consequences for any causes, then pls be assured that your effort won't be wasted. The NBA is a business, so as in any businesses, the direction it's going will be a conscious choice carefully cultivated by the management. But it happens also to be a sport, so it will take more time to adjust and evolve. Note the key word here is "evolve", which would be a slow process at an almost unnoticeable pace.

Speaking of "evolution", the Spurs would be the perfect example of the product of positive selection. As someone else mentioned, it's an in-between or opportunistic Dynasty for the last decade or so. Why? The reason might be that they have been the fittest, so fit that they even changed the ways the zebras call their games. The whole dynamics of refs :: players is certainly a feedback loop and the Spurs have maximized their advantage here. Or in other words, they milked the relationship hard, and successfully.

But I sense their time is almost over. Dynasties rise and fall, and nobody lasts forever. The biggest victory is often the swan song. The Spurs are poised to get another trophy this year, and even maybe the next when they can finally defend their championship, but don't expect them to last beyond that. At that time my friends, the Show Time basketball that we fans have all been (well, except the Spurs fans maybe) waiting anxiously will find its glory.

Amen. :D

Adam Hoff said...

I want to quickly try to stress that this is not false sincerety. I've had an inkling that the Spurs get an advantage. And earlier in the week, I tried to "prove" that, which - in my mind - wound up being a pretty massive failure. But an interesting one.

I gave up on proving it and just decided that IF it was true (I believe it is, but that is just my opinion; one I'm no longer interested in trying to prove), I wanted to come up with a possible reason why. You claim conpiracy, I say it is the opposite of a consipracy. You throw out "small market," but I already, specifically, addressed that in the post (in classic Straw Man fashion). Did you even read it?

It is hardly false sincerity. I firmly believe that the Spurs enjoy a benefit that is the byproduct of their long-term commitment. It doesn't mean I'm happy things are this way, but I respect it more than thinking, "man, why are they getting all the calls." I'm saying I can totally live with this universe.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not sure of the value of analyzing something that even the author admits he can't prove.


Until the rule changes designed to prevent another half-court Detroit / San Antonio style championship series were passed in the last few years, the Spurs were considered "soft" by NBA standards. I think a more plausable explanation than the one forwarded in this article is that the Spurs have retained the same half-court, defense first playing philosophy as rule changes - and other teams intentionally designed to exploit these rules changes - have developed around them. The Spurs didn't become rougher or dirtier, the league became softer. The NBA is in a state of transition to as much run and gun as Stern can legislate. Until then the referees will have to somehow officiate games played in two entirely different ways. It has nothing to do with the Spurs. You could substitute Detroit and get the same data set. If you are willing to take the advantages legislated to help running teams, you must be willing to accept the disadvantages also.

Anonymous said...

Cry me a river.

If you cannot handle old school basketball, then dont play. Amare, Nash, Mr clothesline, D'Antoni, etc. need to grow a set and nut up, or they will be crying all the way home.

Anonymous said...

The crux of your argument is the fact that over a 10 year period the Spurs have desensitized officials enough to go from 21.1 fouls/game to 19.6. If it takes 10 years to shave off 1.5 fouls per game, then Popovich failed miserably in his "strategy."

The Spurs were below the league limit in 97-98, which essentially disproves your theory.

Bottom line is while the Spurs may get more calls to go their way, your reasoning for it is asinine.

Adam Hoff said...

Their rate of fouls doesn't prove or disprove anything. It is just an interest stat that might shed some light. My theory isn't based on stats, it is just a possibility. And I decent one, I think. I mean, it happens all the time in all walks of life amd I don't see why refs wouldn't become desensitized to Bruce Bowen over to time the same way I am to Jack Bauer pistol-whipping people.

As you say, "while the Spurs may get more calls ..." This is exactly what I'm trying to figure out. A TON of people kind of feel in their gut this might be true. But why in earth would it be the case? The NBA couldn't possibly want the Spurs to get more calls. So what else is it?

This particular post wasn't trying to prove one thing or another, merely attempting to theorize that IF it is true, why that might be. For some reason, that isn't getting through. Either I wrote this poorly, or there are some reading comprehension issues in the sports blogging world. I'll go ahead and assume the former and save us the trouble.

Anonymous said...

This is funny, because I came here expecting some comical "Sports Guy" approach to discussing the Spurs Suns matchup, and what I got was an angry, serious Suns fan. Man, it's a GAME on TV.

Once the Spurs are done putting the screws to the Western Conference, I hope another team builds themselves in their image and teaches the bandwagon, NBA run n gunners a lesson. Offense is something that CAN happen, Defense is something you DO.

Anonymous said...

The thing I don't understand in all these comments is the label of "boring" applied to the Spurs. Yes, their hard defense leads to less scoring for the other team. But they have a couple of very exciting, tough-as-nails slashers named Parker and Ginobili who put up lots of highlight-worthy scores. They often push down the floor in transition. Some people actually see a precise backboard shot, or a series of pinpoint passes, as a thing of beauty. Throw in some deadly three-point shooters and it's hard to think of them as a plodding half-court team. TV announcers seem to have begun to realize this recently.

Take That Spike Lee said...

Fouling is obviously something you DO too.

Can anyone truly explore something anymore without being a "fan" or a "hater" of one of the teams? I just scrolled around and found at least six example of the author explaining that he's not a fan of either team but prefers the Suns style of play. Is this a crime? Is he lying to strangers? I doubt it. I feel like the only people calling this dude a "Suns fan" are "Spurs fans." Everyone else did think this was kind of fun and interesting. It is f***ing Spurs fans who are taking it too seriously, getting all bent out of shape that the gig might be up.

I personally detect no "anger" in this article and, in fact, as someone who hates the Spurs, got kind of pissed that he defended them in the end. I wasn't even going to leave a comment, but that "why wasn't this funny like the SportsGuy" comment was just amazing.

Here is the Suns fan on these boards:

"I'm a Spurs fan. We play rough and tough. But only now, when all the real rough and tough players are gone and the rules have encouraged other teams to play fast, only to get sucker punched in the playoffs. Argh. We are so mighty and strong. We are men. All other teams are girls! Go home, girls! Learn how to play through a few knees to the groin. Pussies! Argh! We are the Spurs and everyone who ever says one word that doesn't praise us as basketball gods are awful, bitter, nasty people who have no life. Get a life all you non-Spurs lovers! We are the Spurs and are the only ones that are manly and rough enough to play real basketball."

What a bunch of douche bags. The Spurs fans leaving comments are far more transparent than this blogger or any other I've read.

Anonymous said...

And I thought I was the only one going crazy at all the bad calls the Suns were getting. I'm going absolutely ape-shit during the games...glad it's not just me...

Anonymous said...

If the Spurs really get more calls, then they would have won last year's playoffs versus the Mavs 4-2, and probably the NBA title.

Anonymous said...

Getting more calls doesn't necessarily win you the games. It just gives you an advantage in those games. Also, while Adam's original play-by-play analysis has been bashed because of its supposed bias, it really doesn't make it less true. Please, please, please watch any of the first three games in this series in hi-def slow-mo. Then try and say with a straight face that Bowen doesn't get away with a ton slapping, grabbing and pulling, or that Duncan isn't allowed to play more physically in the post.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hoff, the only thing I'm puzzled about is why you feel the need to address comments from people who seem not to have read or understood your post. Realize that your approach -- start by assuming the conclusion, and then apply Occam's razor to see if prosaic logic supports it -- is not an approach that most people understand. Moreover, the domain of this posting -- sports -- is rife with emotion, and emotion debilitates logic.

To my mind, sports serve as a proxy for the ancient form of warfare, prior to the U.S. Civil War, when men looked into each other's eyes before killing each other. I believe this type of warfare is part of human nature, but is largely gone in these days in which the AK-47 is merely a "starter weapon".

So there's a social vacuum for a certain kind of human experience. I think sports fills that vacuum. Accordingly, many people -- apparently like many commenters on this site -- derive their identity from sports teams (e.g. "Hi, I'm Jim, I'm a member of the Red Sox Nation").

In Greece, the relationship between fan and team is even more intimate. There, you say: "Hi, I'm Yanis, I AM Panathanaikos". They don't say: "I'm a fan of ...". They say: "I AM ...".

In Greece, if you posted a well-reasoned, highly elegant theory like the one you posted here, Spurs fans would be hunting you down to come do you some damage (for your backhanded compliment).

Here in America, they don't do that. Instead, they just post asinine comments. You don't have to respond to every one.

Keep up the good work,


Anonymous said...


Great stuff... Couple points that you may wish to consider.

1. Spurs have been winning for a decade. Fans routing against the Spurs remind me... well of me when I was tired of the Bulls winning and tired of the Laker's steam rolling through everyone. Seriously, how many "Kobe takes 89 steps to the rim" or "Shaq travels and charges every time in the post" conversations did I have? Fact is, when teams are that good you route for them the first time then resent their greatness when it continues. That is why when Shaq left LA we all cheered... and why when the Pistons beat the Laker's in the finals we took of our pants (uh did not mean to write that). But your gut as well as mine told me "How can they be that good. How can they clobber my team or win that much?" The only logical conclusion is the conspiracy theory of Stern wanting certain teams in the playoffs/finals. It is a business and Stern instructs the officials. Your conclusion was that based on your straw man logic, it is impossible because San Antonio is small market, no marketable super stars and low key… which brings me too…

2. Your desensitization conclusion is valid only if you assume that the officials in the NBA are constant and that new officials do not enter the league. If that is the case your theory could hold true. However, we know that in the last 10 years new officials have entered the league. Meaning, each new set of eyes cannot be as desensitized as a Javie or Crawford? In addition, would not desensitization also mean that star players’ (Kobe, James, Duncan, Shaq etc) “star power” with officials diminishes? Would not stars receive less beneficial treatment than they do because the officials are “used” to their antics? I would argue that you as a “fan” have seen enough games to become desensitized but with the influx of new officials, things change. But then again, the Spurs became dirty after game 3 when they went up 2 to 1. That is when the Suns began branding them as dirty. Why not? Phil Jackson won NBA championships using those same shenanigans.

3. The reality is that the Spurs have everything. Great owner (do you even know his name or listen to bitch and moan?), great coach, great players and play in a great city that unequivocally supports the team because it is the only show (college or pro) in town. They have a great front office that unearths second round players (Manu) and are able to find and draft talent. More importantly their coach develops players and is willing to find roles for over the hill veterans. The two gravest mistakes they made in the last 5 years was trading the rights to Barbosa and not drafting Josh Howard. Otherwise, the tract record is solid. The players are good citizens in the community. Players who go to the Spurs to play never complain or bad mouth the organization after they leave or retire. This is why they win... well of course…

4. Tim Duncan does help. Think about this… would the Suns run up and down the floor if they had TD? NO. Why? Because he makes the game easier for everyone else… I will let Simmons argue the case. BTW, is it me or has he finally gotten over the Celtics losing out on his rights and accepted that TD is awesome? I would like to point out that he would not have developed into who is he is under Pittino, Rivers or whoever else is running the Celtics… refer to point 3.

Duncan is wildly underrated
By Bill Simmons
Page 2
Editor's note: This column appears

My father visited me last weekend for two reasons: He wanted to see his granddaughter, and he wanted to finalize his will in case he drops in a heap after David Stern says these words: "The third pick of the 2007 draft goes to ... the Boston Celtics." At one point during Dad's visit, I was discussing possible column topics for the issue you're currently reading. Tim Duncan's name came up.
"Would you read a column about how underrated Tim Duncan is?" I asked.
Dad made a face. He played with his hair. He seemed confused. "A whole column on Tim Duncan?"
"You wouldn't read it?" I continued.
"I don't think so. I'd see the headline, skim the first two paragraphs and flip to the next article."
"Seriously? He's the best player of the past 10 years!"
"Nahhhhhhh," Dad maintained. "Nobody wants to read about Tim Duncan. He's not that interesting."
Duncan's prowess has been a sore subject with my dad and me since the 1997 lottery, when our beloved Celtics had a 36% chance to land the No. 1 pick, and San Antonio plucked it away. Helplessly, we've watched him carry the Spurs to three titles, a number that could have been five if not for Derek Fisher's miracle shot in 2004 and Manu Ginobili's stupid foul of Dirk Nowitzki last season. No Celtics fan can assess Duncan's career for more than .21 seconds without remembering he could have been ours. With the franchise facing another make-or-break Ping-Pong moment on May 22, it's safe to say that not getting Duncan set the Celtics back 10 years.
But what did we really miss besides a slew of 58-win seasons and a few titles? Well, the chance to follow the most consistent superstar in recent NBA history, for starters. Duncan's averages from his first year (21.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.5 bpg, 55% shooting, 39.1 mpg) are nearly identical to those of his just completed 10th (20.0 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.4 bpg, 55% shooting, 34.1 mpg). His placid demeanor hasn't changed even a little; he looks exactly the same. His trademark 15-foot banker off the glass hasn't changed. Nearly 900 regular-season and playoff games have worn down his legs a little but not much, and he's made up for the erosion with an ever-expanding hoops IQ. If there's a major difference between the 1998 Duncan and the 2007 Duncan, it's his defense. He's gotten better and better as the years have passed, not just as a help defender but as an overall communicator.
Whenever I watch the Spurs in person, that's the first thing I notice: how well they talk on defense. It's a friendly, competitive chatter, like five buddies maintaining a running dialogue at a blackjack table as they try to figure out ways to bust the dealer. Duncan is the hub of it all, the oversize big brother who looks out for everyone else. During breaks in the action, you can always count on him to throw an arm around a teammate before dispensing advice or to wave everyone over for an impromptu pep talk. He's their defensive anchor, smartest player, emotional leader, crunch-time scorer and most competitive gamer, one of those rare superstars who simply can't be measured by statistics alone. Fifty years from now, some stat geek will crunch numbers from Duncan's era and come to the conclusion that Kevin Garnett was just as good. And he'll be wrong. No NBA team that featured a healthy Duncan would have missed the playoffs for three straight years. It's an impossibility.
Now ...
I'm not a fan of the whole overrated/underrated thing. With so many TV and radio shows, columnists, bloggers and educated sports fans around, it's nearly impossible for anything to be rated improperly anymore. Everyone is constantly searching for fresh topics to dissect, so could anything slip under the radar at this point? Think back to when Duncan entered the league: The web was still rounding into shape, sportswriters weren't screaming at each other on TV, radio hosts were confined to talking about their local teams and everyone read their local columnists. That's it. Ten years later, a hyperactive sports world means that, if anything, underrated players (like Ben Wallace, for instance) quickly become overrated because everyone spends so much time discussing how underrated they are. Well, I say Tim Duncan is underrated. You know what else? He's wildly underrated.
Assuming the Spurs win the 2007 title and Duncan captures his fourth Finals MVP award (both decent bets), his first professional decade will have concluded with four rings, two regular-season MVP awards and nine first-team All-NBA nods. His best teammates have been David Robinson (who turned 33 in Duncan's rookie year), Manu Ginobili (never a top-15 player) and Tony Parker (ditto). In fact, Duncan has never played for a dominant team; the Spurs have never had quite enough talent to roll through the league. Trapped at the top of the standings, they've been forced to rely on others' failed lottery picks, foreign rookies, journeymen and head cases with baggage. Zoom through San Antonio's past 10 rosters on some time. You'll be shocked. Tim Duncan has never played on a great basketball team. Not once.
So how can he remain underrated? For one thing, he's always had a little too much Pete Sampras in him. Even last month, when Joey Crawford tossed Duncan for laughing on the bench, everyone seemed most shocked that Duncan was the guy involved. It was like watching an AP history teacher flip out on an honors student who never speaks in class. Duncan certainly doesn't have Shaq's sense of humor, Kobe's singular intensity, KG's menacing demeanor, LeBron's jaw-dropping athleticism, Wade's knack for self-promotion, Nash's fan-friendly skills or even Dirk's fist pump. If there's a defining Duncan quality, it's the way he bulges his eyes in disbelief after every call that goes against him, a grating habit that was old about five years ago. The other "problem" has been his steadfast consistency. If you keep banging out great seasons with none standing out more than any other, who's going to notice?
There's a precedent for this: Once upon a time, Harrison Ford pumped out monster hits for 15 solid years before everyone suddenly noticed, "Wait a second, Harrison Ford is unquestionably the biggest movie star of his generation!" From 1977 to 1992, Ford starred in three Star Wars movies, three Indiana Jones movies, Blade Runner, Working Girl, Witness, Presumed Innocent and Patriot Games ... but it wasn't until he carried The Fugitive that everyone realized he was more bankable than Stallone, Reynolds, Eastwood, Cruise, Costner, Schwarzenegger and every other competitor from that time. As with Duncan, we didn't know much about Ford outside of his work. As with Duncan, there wasn't anything inherently interesting about him. But Ford always delivered the goods and, eventually, we appreciated him for it.
I think we'll say the same about Duncan someday. Over the past 10 years, he's been overshadowed by Kobe and Shaq, LeBron and Wade, Nash and Kidd, Nowitzki and KG, even C-Webb and Iverson ... and yet, Tim Duncan was better than all of them.
Just wait, he'll have his Fugitive moment. It's coming. Maybe even next month

Adam Hoff said...

That definitely gets the "longest comment of the year award" thanks to the attached column. So good work.

In all honesty, those were some good thoughts. And Peter, who wondered why I bothered to respond to the wayward comments, I say, good point. I have a weird compulsion to engage everyone in dialogue at all times. Luckily (I suppose), I just don't have to time to keep up, so I suspect the replies will become fewer and further between. But that was a very interesting post and I appreciated the comparisons to Greece as well as sports-to-warfare (in a way that avoided all cliche), and, of course, an Occam's Razor drop. Peter gets comment of the day, at least.

Karl said...

The Spurs/Suns series was great basketball. Bruce Bowen is a great defender. I watched Steve Nash have to play on every play. Thats good basketball.

I played the other night with some guys from work, some of the young guys just didn't get-it when I'd dead-front them or box them out. Basketball has lost a lot it's real play by speed and hops.

Everyone has a problem with Bruce reaching... but who was reaching when Steve got his nose cut open. HIMSELF?

If you get a chance to watch 'Pro's vs. Joe's' (the one with Kevin Willis) do it! The 'Joe's' complained that trying to rebound vs Kevin Willis was harder than going a round in the ring with Roy Jones Jr.

Bruce Bowen makes people play, he makes them work for everything they get. He's not out there to be a nice guy. But he's a defender. If there is a reason he is getting the calls this year, it simple. The refs realized he's the best defender in the league, and he got looked over for the Defensive Player of the Year. On top of that Stu Jackson called Bowen earlier this year with a threat that'if someone stepped on his feet again, he'd face disciplinary action including suspension.... WTF? Thats good defense... get in their grill. Beat them to their spots. Bruce has nothing to do but to watch film on opponents tendencies... get with the program people... he knows what Steve wants to do.. what direction he wants to go.. and he's going to make him go the other way every time.

Forget the hand-checking fouls, every screen that the Suns set for Nash was moving, should they have called all of those?

The Suns were #2 this year in points in the paint because of alley-oops from Nash or fast breaks. Not because they were driving through defenders.

Horry's hip check on Nash was more a flop by Nash than a hard hit by Horry. It was certainly not a flagrant 2.

The Spurs are the best team in basketball. PERIOD! They've got the best winning percentage of any NBA team for the past DECADE! Scratch that, not just the NBA, but any professional sports team!

"Learn to appericate what you're seeing, 'cause it's historic what the Spurs have done the past several years" -- Greg Anthony

Don't get me wrong, I was a Warriors fan for years before moving to San Antonio. I bought season tickets simply because I loved basketball. I stopped buying season tickets because I grew tired of watching the same game every night. The Run-TMC years of the Warriors was high-scoring basketball at it's best. The highest scoring trio in NBA history in Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, & Mitch Richmond. Throw Manute Bol out there to throw some shots... now that's entertaining basketball. But it's not CHAMPIONSHIP BASKETBALL.

Suns fans, be mad at the refs... check out, buy the T-shirt! But don't be mad at the Spurs... they play basketball to the extremes. They got bad calls... they kept playing.. they keep their mouths shut and keep playing. They get poked in the eye.. they keep playing.. they get fouled with no whistles.. they keep playing... should I go on?

Get mad at Shaw Marion. Had he showed up in 2005 maybe he'd be wearing a ring already. He scored 28 pts... thats right.. a total of 28 points in the games the Suns lost. He kicked it off right 3 total points on game 1. The Suns would have won the Championship in '05 if Marion would have had simply an 'average game' every night.

A Spurs fans said something to me about these playoffs and I responded that I didn't think the Suns could win, because Shawn disappears during the big games. He had a great first 1/2 the other night, only to disappear again when the pressure was turned up.

Truehoop (Henry Abbott) who hate's watching the Spurs admitted the Spurs would have won a fairly called game 4. So the bad refereeing was not all one-sided, it's universal.

The Spurs are not a 'dirty' team as Amare Sto'dirty'mire would like to say. The organization from the top down brings in nothing but individuals with high-character. David Robinson is a gleaming example from the very start. The first two years of retirement he spent teaching a bible-study. Not to mention many other contributions to society... On the other hand, a player like Stephen Jackson who helped them win a championship was quickly let go in free agency due to his poor character. (Now he's facing charges in Indiana). Same with Derek Anderson.. start showing questionable character.. GONE. Antonio Daniels - Tim Duncan's best friend, who was one of the most exciting Spurs pre-Manu, had an incident in San Antonio where someone accused AD of choking him, GONE, traded for essentially nothing to... you guessed it Portland...

Give the Spurs players, coaches, executive all there propers. They won a great series, a true classic.

Now, go home and practice... see you next year!


PS - About the Celtics not getting Tim Duncan... only thing worse is the Clippers. Spurs/Clippers had the #1 picks in consecutive years twice. With the Spurs picks they land: David Robinson & Tim Duncan. The Clippers #1 picks landed them: Danny Manning & Michael Olowakandi. (#1 picks aren't everything.. get them on the right year!)

alivenbreathing said...

Anybody who's seriously willing to debate that NBA fans weren't robbed of at least a game 7 in the Suns vs. Spurs series and that it wasn't a direct result of the Spurs' conniving ways is either a douchebag Spurs fan, or just a douchebag. the only reason that Duncan and maybe Bowen didn't get suspended for game 5 was because James Jones wasn't thinking about getting anyone suspended: when Horry gave Nash the hockey bodycheck and Nash went flailing, Horry looked pretty determined to make sure the incident was classified as an altercation by throwing his forearm into the neck of the first Sun to approach him; while in the second quarter when Duncan came off of the bench to see if there was going to be an altercation as Junior threw Elson off of his shoulders, JJ (as well as the refs) was oblivious of what was his opportunity to make something out of nothing. Which is exactly what Popovich and Horry did at the end of game 4 as they knew that they were done at least for the night. Bottom line Adam, you've never responded to me comparing your reasoning to the same 'ends justifies the means' that has had us in Iraq looking for Bin Laden and WMD's, you really don't see what you're defending, do you? You really must be victim of your own prognosis, desensitization, but not just from basketball and the Spurs, but this administration, the last Congress, American culture in itself somehow has translated a mixed message to you and anyone else who tolerates this new low in sportsmanship that this is how you get ahead in life or the NBA playoffs. Not just cheating, but 'sheer genius', schematic cheating that takes time to fulfill its intended goals. Seriously people, this isn't what America is about. That's why Phoenix averaged a 3.5 Nielson rating in the regular season, and all three of the top viewed playoff games were with them and either LA or the Spurs, because this is the spirit of basketball that people want to watch. Wait a week and see if Sunday's game one even got above 3.0 after its initial 3.8 rating that always comes down after adjustments. David Stern will reap what he has sowed, I loved how he praised Duncan at the lotto today after stonewalling any notion that he might have made a mistake, even but once. Literally going the tenured absolute truth route, saying, '...I've been doing this for 25 years and I know what I'm doing...' After these playoffs Stern and the NBA will have lost millions in advertising revenue as fans are lulled to sleep by the Pistons, Jazz, Lebron and the Spurs. I honestly was hoping for a league conspiracy this year, because I thought that the most profitable storyline that the NBA could have had this year would have been for the Suns to plow through the West to meet up with either Wade or Lebron in the Finals. Like I said, at the least, we all got robbed of what could have been one of the best game 7's in the history of the sport, and you're a douchebag Spurs fan.

I won't be surprised if this is censored, not for the douchebags, but because of the light it, and they cast.

Spurs Fans For Life said...

To the most recent comment:

Have you even read this blog? It is kind of hilarious that you are accusing the author of being some kind of pro-Spurs maniac, when his whole blog is devoted to complaining about them. This is the only post he's ever written that could even be described as a backhanded compliment. Seriously, read everything before and after this.

This blog actually frustrates me somtimes as a Spurs fan, but even though it feels biased and a bit 'Spurs Hater' at times, at least it is pretty well-written. But you just sound like a moron, dude.

alivenbreathing said...

Spurs fans(sic) for life... you're right, I have never read this blog before finding a link to the meticulous breakdown the blogger gave us about Game 2, and I agree that I thought both articles were very insightful and well written until the last two paragraphs in which he not only accepts the numbness but exalts it. As Spurs fan, you're not only numb to it, you love it. A telling sign of this was Horry saying that the first standing ovation for going to the scoring table in his career was in game 1 against the Jazz. As a Suns fan, it was just a little hard to have the series end the way it did, I apparently still have a little steam to vent, and for that I will apologize, but anyone who isn't outraged, in my opinion Adam has their diagnosis right on, but what is the treatment to reverse desensitization other than serious cognitive and behavioral therapy?