I only root for one team: the Lakers. To root for another team feels like a betrayal. I also don’t root against teams unless they are playing the Lakers; that is pure haterism. My love of the game, and my passion for basketball has nothing to do with hating on other teams. Yet, I find myself increasingly wanting to root against the Spurs. And it has nothing to do with the Spurs per se (although their clothing game leaves something to be desired) but rather the media discourse that surrounds them. My increasing disdain for them is not so much about their incessant pick-n-roll offense or the endless 3s they shoot, but the media praise of exceptionalism.
Greg Doyel is the perfect example of this. He recently penned, “Forget thrilling: Boring consistency may win Spurs a fifth NBA title”:
They win because that’s what they do. It’s who they are. Latrell Sprewell and Kenyon Martin and Rasheed Wallace and even LeBron circa 2007 swing hard and wild. They grip it and rip it and entertain fans by visiting spots all over the course. The Spurs don’t do any of that. They keep it in the fairway, hit the greens, don’t turn the ball over. They win the NBA Finals.
You could try to talk to the Spurs about what happened Thursday night, but you won’t get very far. They don’t say much, which is their right. Some guys, some franchises, live for the camera. They may pretend they don’t like the media attention, but they show up for press conferences in capri pants and Urkel glasses. They want that attention off the floor, because for whatever reason all the attention on the floor isn’t enough. That’s the Heat.
This is the Spurs: They come to press conferences with nothing interesting to wear, nothing interesting to say and no apologies to make about either. Tim Duncan was asked Friday about the promise Tony Parker had once made to him, about getting him back to the NBA Finals, and Duncan just nodded: Your point? So the point, Duncan was told, was that Parker had said it and now he has done it, and so has Duncan ever reminded Parker about the promise, or thanked him for delivering? They just play, this whole team. The right pass. Right shot. Right defensive rotation. Maybe it doesn’t make for great TV. Maybe it should. Maybe the Spurs are the most admirable team in the NBA today — a team so comfortable with itself, it believes winning a game is the most interesting thing possible.
The only thing missing from the article is a quote from Billy Hoyle (White Man can’t jump) when he said, “A white man wants to win first, look good second. A black man wants to look good first, win second.” Dog whistles or just pure screams? Given the NBA discourse, and the ways that race, nation, and identity operate, the Spurs are being imagined as exceptional and different from the league’s predominantly black players. Evident by ubiquitous media representations of Spurs as “the very incarnation of humility” (Fareed, 2006, p. 57) and a widely circulated narrative that consistently imagines them as a team defined by “hard work, self-sacrifice, and the honor in labor in order to secure a piece of the American Dream” (Fareed, 2006, p.58), the celebrations from the likes of Doyel and Dan Wetzel are ripe with racial, nation, and gendered meanings. According to Dave Zirin, “Athletes in the eyes of many fans are too spoiled, too loud, too ‘hip-hop, too tattooed, too cornrowed – all of which translates to players are ‘too black’” (Zirin 2004). Hard to think that the media does not share this same disdain and discomfort?
Within the NBA, the black body regard functions as “a site of spectacle,” as “a potential measure of evil, and menace,” necessitating containment and control (Denzin, 2001, p. 7). As such, the racial signifies attached to the Spurs (and those attached to the Heat) derive its meaning from the ways in which blackness is represented on and off the court.
Nate Taylor, with “For Spurs, Every Game is a Global Summit,” reiterates the often-uttered praised for the Spurs and international players as a whole that emphasizes culture and values:
For R. C. Buford, San Antonio’s general manager, having the most international players in N.B.A. history was not necessarily done by design. For years, he has worked with Coach Gregg Popovich to build a team that fits Popovich’s system, which emphasizes teamwork and selflessness. These concepts may be easier to sell to players who learned the game far from the hype that can distort the development of fundamental basketball in the United States (ht @jacobjbg)
With ease, the Spurs yet again becomes a moment to posit a “model minority” discourse where the “nonblack” and international NBA players reflect the desired qualities of humility, teamwork, and fundamental play long reserved for whites within a sporting imagination. Who needs facts when you have a compelling narrative. Never mind, LeBron’s intellectual mastery of the game; never mind the unselfishness of Heat players or the hardwork of every NBA player. Never mind, Manu’s questionable shot selection or Tony Parker’s tendency to dribble out the entire shot clock (or fact that he is a shooting PG) or the Spurs up-temp style of ball, the Spurs have come to embody the antithesis of ballers, hip-hop, and blackness within the NBA imagination.
These comments should also give us pause at sporting level because the celebration of Spurs as being all about winning, about team and championships, compared to the Heat, is laughable given that the Spurs haven’t won a title in 5 years. This year their ethos and focus matters but what happened last year? The year before; and the one before that? The Heat have been in the NBA finals three straight seasons so what gives? What about the Lakers’ over the last 2 decades? And even the Bulls, who were also about the show, who were known for their enjoyment of life, found ways to dominate?
While I likely wont root for the Heat or even against the Spurs, the likes of Gregg Doyle and their rhetorical drooling about the Spurs is challenging me to keep to my game.