Cool moment. Changing of the guard in the NBA.
Something special happened last night. The San Antonio Spurs achieved a feat that we get the pleasure of witnessing no more than five times a year in the sports world. It happens so rarely that at time fans and athletes alike forget that it even exists in sports. Coaches preach of its virtues and try their damnedest to instruct their teams in the way of attaining it. Most fail. Last night, during the third quarter of a playoff game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs achieved athletic perfection. Watch (scroll to the 1:46 mark of the video, if it doesn’t start there automatically):
It began around the 11:06 mark in the third quarter and lasted until about the 5:15 mark. During that span, the Spurs were a breath-taking juggernaut, scoring 25 points on 9/11 shooting including a startling 5/5 mark from the three-point line. The spacing, cutting, and ball movement among the Spurs players was something that led many a NBA analyst remarking that he had never witnessed passing at such an elite level. And what’s remarkable about the passing is not only each player’s ability to read the defense and make the correct play, but also that the passes arrive in exactly the spot that a shooter needs it in order to take a good shot. Remember that a half second can mean the difference between a wide-open three and having your shot blocked on a close out, given the speed of NBA players (think: Westbrook).
Every Spurs read and subsequent pass was perfect during this stretch. It all culminated in that excellent behind-the-back pass from Manu Ginobli to Tony Parker in which the Thunder’s transition defense was so taken aback by the wide-openness of Parker that they let him take the three without a single player running out to challenge the shot. Parker took his time, squared his feet, and knocked it down. Of course he did.
The three readers of this site know by now that my favorite sports article of all-time is a David Foster Wallace’s “Federer As Religous Experience.” At its most simplistic level, the piece details Wallace’s fascination with the greatest tennis player in the world at the peak of his powers. Better than perhaps any individual who ever attempted to do so, Wallace is able to describe what it is that makes witnessing Federer so powerful to a sports fan. He discusses the impossibility of his shot-making and the brilliance of his decision-making. The genius of the piece, to me, eventually defines what’s appealing about watching competitive sports played at a level like that, to which Wallace writes:
Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war. The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.
What Wallace describes is athletic perfection. We’re attracted to it because it happens so rarely. We delight in it because of the sheer impossibility of it all. For about six minutes last night the Spurs were able to achieve that. To be honest, I could not even tell you the last time I witnessed it on a basketball court. I’ve seen it happen in soccer multiple times in the last three years with Barcelona and Lionel Messi. The St. Louis Cardinals found a little bit of it in their World Series run last year. Eli Manning seems to find it once every five years or so, but only when his team is trailing late in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl to the Patriots.
To a sport dork like myself, it’s why I devote so much time to consuming sports content every day. Although I admit that I do take a sicker, darker pleasure in seeing my home-town teams succeed, there is nothing purer as a fan of sports than witnessing something like that. I’m reduced to being a fan of the game itself which is really what it should be all about in the first place. It’s also far easier to reconcile the countless hours spent watching, reading, and studying. For most people a championship every decade or so suffices. For me it’s these sporadic glimpses of greatness.
I guess what I really want to say is that if you’re any kind of a fan of basketball or sports in general, you should be tuning in right now to watch the San Antonio Spurs to see how long this lasts. They have a legitimate shot at sweeping the entire playoffs, a feat which has never been accomplished. More importantly for you though, you might get to witness a breath-taking stretch like occurred last night. When you finally are able to let go of living and dying with your team and enjoy the purity of rooting for great sports, you’ll learn to love the games in ways that are infinitely more rewarding.
Trust me, I’m a sports dork.
This is big considering Ibaka has been the best shot blocker in the NBA playoffs. Also: Duncan is old.