Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blame the Spurs

Last post of the night and it should be a fun one, since San Antonio fans hate me already.

I've been having a lot of interesting conversations with hesitant and recalcitrant NBA fans lately and as exciting as this season has been, as good as the playoffs could be, and as amazing as the newest stars are, there is still something holding people back from fully embracing the sport once again. Maybe it is the lingering resentment over the early part of this decade, with all the bad offense, bloated contracts, and shady shoe company dealings, but that seems like a stretch. After all, we are an "out of sight, out of mind" culture. Perhaps, instead, it is David Stern. There is no denying that he defines the word "pedantic," that he is (at best) a worm in regard to this whole Seattle fiasco, and that he seems grossly out of touch with his league's fan base (assuming that he even considers Americans to be part of the NBA's fan base anymore). He certainly seems to popping up on this blog a lot tonight, but I doubt that the average non-Sonics, non-Suns NBA fan really cares that much about Stern.

So what's the problem? Why can't people go nuts like those fans in Atlanta tonight or the people at Oracle last spring and fully celebrate the ascension of Chris Paul and the continued dominance of LeBron James and the sheer power of Dwight Howard and the coronation of Kobe Bryant?

I think it boils down to a couple of simple things and they are both happening on the court.

1. The first issue is the flopping. It's no secret that flopping is completely out of control right now. Jeff Van Gundy went on a rant about it on Sunday when Raja Bell went horizontal trying to flop his way into taking a charge. Guys are flopping in the lane, flopping at halfcourt, flopping on defense, flopping on offense. It's completely out of control.

2. The second issue is the complaining. Supposedly, this was issue #1 last year until Stern got distracted by the 80 million fans tuning in to games in China and lost interest in quality control and the league abandoned its T Brigade halfway through the season, never to mention it again. (Honestly, does anyone else find it weird that they were dishing out technical fouls left and right for every hint of emotion and then just stopped? That's not odd to anyone?) Now guys are complaining more than ever, spending half the game playing and the other half yapping and gesturing and pleading like a third strike defendant before the sentencing judge.

No matter how good the players are, the aesthetic of basketball is interrupted and diminished when guys are flopping and whining for 48 minutes. These are disturbing, disturbing trends.

And I blame the San Antonio Spurs entirely for both of them.

You see, everyone wants to imitate a winner. That's why you see different player types, offenses, and strategies become vogue in all sports. Big point guards, fast linebackers, patient leadoff hitters, whatever. And in the NBA, the Spurs have been the team that everyone wants to copy in all the wrong ways.

If teams really wanted to emulate the Spurs they would do what the Blazers are doing. Clean house, bring in guys who will accept coaching and play as a team, anchor the roster with defense, move the ball, plan ahead, and so on. But that takes too much effort and too much patience and so instead, teams latch on to the negative aspects of the Spurs "dynasty" (are we calling them a dynasty?). And that would be flopping and complaining.

The former is the forte of one Manu Ginobili. He actually flops far less now than he used to, but during the 2005 season (when the Spurs beat the Pistons for the title), he was like Dick Fosbury out there. It was downright comical ... except that it worked unbelievably well. I can't tell you how many bogus calls he got during the '05 Playoffs. The number is off the charts. And guess what? I wasn't the only one who noticed. Opposing players, coaches, and scouts noticed. And so when the 2006 season kicked off, so did the Year of the Swan Dive. And once people got the hang of it, it really picked up steam. By 2007, big men decided to get in the act and even started taking dives out past the three-point line. It became so common and so rewarded that announcers soon began to praise players for it. Madness! What started as Ginobili's own, weasely homage to soccer quickly became a league-wide epidemic simply because people thought it might work as well for them as it did for the Spurs.

The latter trait is the purview of Tim Duncan. And Bruce Bowen. And Coach Pop. And, well, all the Spurs. I've long held that for all their acumen, skill, teamwork, and mental toughness, the Spurs are the whiniest bunch of champions I've ever seen. If you pour through the game film from the last eight years, you will find something startling: this team has never committed a foul, nor have they ever missed a shot without being fouled. It's true - just ask them! I understand that I could be describing every team in the league at this point, but it wasn't always this way. No, this was a San Antonio (and, if we’re being honest, Gary Payton) specialty. As with flopping, it seemed to work. Tim Duncan started to get so many calls (check out his free throw numbers for a few key series from 2002-2005) while still maintaining his choir boy/poker face reputation (how people could say his expression never changes is one of life's great mysteries) in the media, that it seemed like a no-brainer to follow in his footsteps. Not getting enough calls? Just complain about everything and you can eventually wear down the officials.

Now, of course, flopping and complaining are hit-or-miss propositions. Sometimes you can get a cheap call by throwing yourself on the ground and occasionally you can be the squeaky wheel that gets the whistle, but just as often, you merely ruin the game by tromping around like a petulant child and selling out like a punk by launching yourself into the third row.

This goes for everyone from Manu Ginobili to Tim Duncan to my favorite player Allen Iverson to my hometown Blazers.

We're sick of the flopping.

We're sick of the complaining.

The two forces are conspiring to ruin a wonderful postseason.

And, yes, I blame the Spurs.


Anonymous said...

Now that's a great bunch of posts.

Brandon said...

Be prepared for a slew of e-mails from Spurs fans saying, "You're just hating on the Spurs because they win! You're jealous!"

I'm with you. Flopping and whining take away pleasure from watching the game more than anything else. The league needs to remove the reward from flopping, and start enforcing its own rules re: complaining.

Anonymous said...

Nice post, you should consider starting a support group for NBA fans who need help coping with what the Spur’s style of play.

Christina said...

To the second anonymous: The Spurs' "syle of play" is that of flopping and whining to the refs, as well as frequent cheap shots. Why should anyone have to cope with that? Has Duncan EVER accepted that he committed a foul? He might not be as verbal as some players (see Bryant, Kobe) but he does the wide-eyed, who me? look even after hammering someone to the floor.

The flopping is ridiculous as well. Not to mention the dirty plays of San Antonio that go unnoticed (I wish I could find the clip from last year where Ginobili literally wrapped his body around Amare Stoudemire's legs and didn't get called for a foul). And really, do we need to get into the dirty play of Bruce Bowen?

Brandon said...

Thank goodness for the Hornets. If Game 1 is any indication, they'll knock the Spurs out before we have to watch them flop and whine their way to another Finals.