The Spurs have a reputation for being boring, but that's not true anymore, writes SB Nation's Matt O'Brien.
I know, I know. Convining anyone outside of south Texas to root for Gregg Popovich's squad is a Sisyphean task. The Spurs are just a boring collection of hoops automatons sent to ruthlessly and efficiently win games, aesthetics be damned. Right?
It wasn't always this way for the Spurs. Sure, they've never exactly excited the passions of NBA fans the way Steve Nash's 7SOL Suns did, but back in 2003 San Antonio was at least something of a feel-good story. Perpetual good guy David Robinson got to cap his career with a second ring, and Duncan and Co. were the perfect antidote to the monotony of watching Shaq and Kobe foist yet another championship banner in Staples Center. And as a bonus, that team even featured a not-yet-obviously-crazy Steven Jackson. Good times.
But it didn't take long for the backlash against the Spurs' brand of dull yet methodical basketball to take hold. The 2005 Finals against the Pistons represented a real nadir in watchable pro hoops; that affront to the basketball gods featured one low-scoring blowout after another. By 2007, the Spurs had made the somewhat unlikely transformation from boring to villains ... except they were still too boring to really pull it off. Greybeards like Bruce Bowen (who made an art of stepping on opponents' feet) and Robert Horry gave it their best, antagonizing opponents with borderline tactics, but -- as Mark Jackson would explain -- at the end of the day, the soporific game of the Big Fundamental overwhelmed even blatant cheap shots like this in the public psyche.
And that's where the public perception of the Spurs has been stuck for years now: "old", "boring" and "dirty. "Which is a shame because this Spurs team is decidedly different (no really, they are). Yes, their core of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker is now on the wrong side of 30, and yes, they still coast for the first months of the season before turning things on as the playoffs near, but the rest of their roster has been made over the past few years in favor of young, athletic players.
Gone are aforementioned mainstays like Bowen and Horry. The club even jettisoned the ancient Michael Finley (who, of course, promptly signed with the new elderly home of the NBA, the Celtics). In their place are an assortment of draft picks and D-League savants other teams have inexplicably overlooked or short-sightedly let go, and who are now just meshing with the Spurs' Big Three. Guys like George Hill (whose recently re-injured ankle is a major concern) and DeJuan Blair have emerged as key contributors, with others likely to take on bigger roles next season.
So the Spurs have a few real underdogs, and who doesn't like underdogs? But there's more. This season has also seen San Antonio's most entertaining player, Manu Ginobili, undergo a dramatic late-season resurgence, that has not only turned them into a legit title contender out of the 7-seed, but also made the team much more palatable for the eyes. Ginobili's sometimes-spastic, always-creative playmaking has long been one of the underrated aspects of the Spurs' play. His indifference for his own health, however -- he's made a career out of careening his way through the lane -- had slowed him do so much the past few years that it seemed his days as an elite-level player were finished. Not so much. With Tony Parker out earlier in the month, Ginobili rediscovered his game and played arguably the best ball of his career, simultaneously securing both a contract extension and a measure of redemption.
So underdogs, a comeback ... anything else? Ah yes, there's finally the legacy question. A few weeks ago, Dan Shaugnessy set off a minor firestorm when he proclaimed Tim Duncan didn't crack his list of the top ten all-time greatest NBA players. Really, someone who's anchored four NBA championship teams isn't better than Charles Barkley, Karl Malone or John Stockton? Luckily, SI's Joe Posnanski did the heavy lifting deconstructing and disproving this particular brand of crazy, but the larger question remains: what will it take for Duncan to receive the type of recognition his career deserves? If it takes watching the Spurs march to an improbable fifth title under the oft-placid leadership of the Big Fundamental, then damnit let's root for Gregg Popovich's team to do so; at least that will have made suffering through the four previous ones (more) worth it, to be able to say that you saw one of the definitive, if underappreciated, all-time greats at his best, demolishing more highly-touted opponents.
So jump on the Spurs bandwagon. There's plenty of room. And this year's Spurs team actually has enough compelling storylines (and talent) that they might be able to ditch the boring label and instead be remembered for something else: simply as champions.