The Spurs: When the Losses are Really Wins
My hero growing up was Vinny Del Negro, not James Silas. My earliest memories are of three-pointers from Chuck "The Rifleman" Person, not finger rolls by George "The Iceman" Gervin. When the San Antonio Spurs drafted Tim Duncan, I remember mailing him a picture depicting myself wearing an adult medium Wake Forest t-shirt – it went down past my knees.
However, in my relatively brief period of fandom, I have been fortunate to see the Spurs win all three of their NBA titles, including the franchise's first in 1999.
At the same time, I have been equally fortunate to see them with the worst record in the league just a few years prior. So I sat quietly in my college dorm room, calm and confident as the Spurs lost Game 1 95-89 to the Denver Nuggets.
The contrast to this reaction came a few hours later, when my roommate, who is a fan of the Dallas Mavericks, showed both visible and vocal signs of fear when the Golden State Warriors beat Dallas 97-85 to steal home-court advantage.
It is amazing what the effects three championships can have on one's automated response system.
The Spurs have already reached the proverbial "pinnacle of success" in professional basketball, and have done so repeatedly at that. In turn, I simply shrugged off the loss with the same general apathy of a baseball pitcher walking a batter in the first inning – no big deal, more chances to come. However, to a fan base which is still anxiously awaiting their team's first title, Golden State might as well have hit a grand slam. And I can't help but envy my roommate for that.
We love sports because of these ups and down, the emotional highs and lows that go with the wins and losses. There is a feeling of ownership in the ultimate glory of the prize because we fans have ridden the roller coaster of the positives and negatives right along with the team. In 1997, the Spurs and their fans endured a season in which the team went 20-62. David Robinson played only six games that year and Sean Elliot was injured as often as he was healthy. Then in the off-season the Spurs got the first pick in the NBA lottery, drafted Tim Duncan, and won the franchise's first championship only two years later. The turnaround, of course, highlights the glory of the entire process.
For those fans who have seen the top, it is hard to debate that the first championship won't always be the sweetest. The progressive titles thereafter, while still exciting in their own right, matter so much less simply because the fans lack the emotional lows that come with a history of falling short. Who would celebrate the trophy more this year: Spurs fans or Mavericks fans? Probably the same people who showed visible fear after the Game 1 loss. I believe, in some aspect, that a few setbacks are beneficial. In hindsight this road is always best because there is an almost tangible sense of "we earned this" after a fan's team wins in a hard-fought series.
And if the Spurs do lose in the first round, or for that matter in the second or third, I believe, in some aspect, their fans should be happy about that as well. Because a championship won five or ten or twenty years from now, a return to glory after not winning the title in years, will taste exponentially sweeter than a trophy this June. Though this goes against the popular belief, ultimate joy during a team's dynasty is a myth. The real fun, the real drawing power in the sport, is gained from the emotional downswing of a loss.
Personally, I believe the Spurs will bounce back from the opening loss and win this series. For that matter, I am also confident they will go all the way. We, the fans, believe this with every bone in our bodies, because the potential reward for such an emotional investment has the ability to bring a satisfaction that is hard to achieve elsewhere. But if the Spurs don't win the championship – if we don't win the championship – then I at least understand that these are the reasons I keep coming back for more.
Spurs fans, for our part, are used to winning, and the Mavericks help put them in perspective. Because if the Mavericks win the title this year, there will really, truly, be a reason to celebrate. And I can't help but envy my roommate for that.