As the final minutes of Game 1 of the 2013 NBA Finals ticked through their petty pace, I found myself in an unfamiliar situation: caring about the result. GameCenter couldn't update fast enough, I felt. I caught myself whispering encouragement across thousands of miles to My Team, begging them to hold on, hold on, hold on.
They did. I went to bed euphoric. I awoke confused: whence the euphoria? The NBA holds little allure for me, and apathy is easy in the city that is home to the Bucks. The season is too long for Every Game To Matter, but too short for tickets to be frequently affordable.
It's the Spurs, I realized. San Antonio is the only reason I care at all.
Popovich and the Spurs have held my imagination ever since that magical run in 1999. My 9-year-old jaw was firmly on the floor throughout the series, one-sided though it was: the dominant play of the Twin Towers, the (alleged) villainy of Latrell Sprewell, Avery Johnson's giddy postgame interview after his clutch shot to win the series ("I believe in me, my momma believed in me, the Lord Jesus believed in me!" he laughs). The Spurs were the first pro team I could call my own.
They're still my team, though my reasons have changed. As the history of their not-quite-dynasty has unfolded throughout the last decade-plus, Popovich and his core have made their priorities clear: they play for the result. For Popovich's Spurs, success isn't bought; wins aren't stolen; victory isn't happily accidental. Everything is earned, and it's all part of a larger plan.
This deliberation has cost the organization: the first time the Spurs met the Heat in the regular season came at the end of a grueling road swing for San Antonio, so Popovich made the decision to rest his starters in a game that meant little for the Western Conference seeding race. Unfortunately for the Spurs, the game had been labeled a marquee matchup by a league seeing dollar signs, given national television coverage, and expected to be brimming with drama. The canny Popovich started his bench and was fined by the league for it. (The reserves still almost pulled out a win, falling 100-105.)
I don't watch the NBA; I follow it. I read box scores, accounts, recaps, rather than viewing the product. So I don't give a fig for claims that San Antonio is "dull" or that Miami is "entertaining". Prioritizing the spectacle is fine for David Stern and his money-grubbing ilk. I'm interested in the scoring of actual points, rather than of style points. Gregg Popovich was San Antonio's GM before he picked up the head coach's clipboard; he knows how to play the long game. I like that.
As I finish my first year of graduate school and launch into the second, there are a few solid predictions I can make for the future: I won't be done soon, I'll have to work hard, I won't be flush financially, I'm working towards a specific, achievable goal. Perhaps why I'm rooting for the Spurs is because I can identify with them. In my experience, success is earned, not purchased. San Antonio shows me that hard work can pay off.
Long live superimposition!