By: David Hinebaugh
I once ran into Greg Popovich at a dry-cleaners near the team’s practice facility. I was twenty-three then, and this was the year, in fact the very Spring, that the Spurs would end up losing to Lebron (they were formally referred to as the Miami Heat, I believe) in seven games. The first thing I noticed about the man was, of course, his literal enormous stature. The bodies of athletes are sculpted from a different, certainly more gifted artist than the one who built the forms of normal men. The legs are longer; the ankles and knees thicker. As they grow older they walk with a regal, earned limp. That was my first impression of him, dressed in team shorts and shirt; no doubt having just left shoot-around. Somehow, it was more surprising that I would see him in exactly the same role as I had countless times on TNT or ESPN; Greg Popovich, coach of the San Antonio Spurs, quiet and just a bit cranky, as a man in a blue polo handed him the suit he’d be wearing later that night.
I, before I could command any conscious effort, looked him up and down– with not an ounce of propriety.
“Oh my God, you’re Coach Popovich.”
I said this as though it was a previously unknown factoid. I never looked over, but I assume the desk clerk of the dry cleaners laughed.
“That’s right.” He said it, of course, with a wry smile. At this point, it’s likely the clerk handed me my dry-cleaning as well. Though I have no actual memory of this. “No one is going to believe this,” I said, as I extended my hand. “Oh, I’m just the same as you.” That was the last thing he said, before releasing my hand walking to his black SUV in the parking lot.
For almost the entirety of my young life, that has been the identity of my hometown team: humble, gracious…and arguably a bit terse. That narrative, I am forlorn to say, is at the precipice of its conclusion.
As they continue to accumulate regular season victories and respectable post-season runs, it seems a far cry from the spectre of a sixers/nets-esque irrelevance. However, as history has proven, all empires must fall; either by dramatic defeat…or else by gradual decay. I assume the ladder, in this particular case. Yes, my fellow river-walk parade goers, one day, not long from now, our Spurs–these Spurs–will be extinct.
It’s easy to forget, the stroke of generational luck that found the number one pick going to a team whose roster already included David Robinson. That Timmy once heavily considered taking his talents to a place only a few miles from South Beach. Naturally, all champions and their corresponding dynasties are littered with such fortunate plot twists. However, utopian as the franchise might appear at times, logic dictates this will not continue. In fact, the argument could be made that the process has already began.
The remnants of the big three will be gone by 2018-2019, at the latest. Though the fan base has come to expect management to produce hidden gems like Danny Green and Jonathon Simmons, it would be simply delusional to expect that kind of payoff to continue; especially when role players will no longer be
afforded the luxury and insulation of playing alongside multiple Hall of Famers. Sure, Kawhi is still young. Yet, the current makeup of the NBA requires two, if not three legitimate stars to be routinely competitive. If you believe the Spurs are immune, (and I understand that assumption) then I would suggest you go look at the stagnant sets of this current, Kawhi-heavy iteration of the Spurs’ offense. I’m afraid that brief camelot of democratic ball movement we were privy to in 2014 was the exception, not the rule.
Look, I’m not telling you to give up. There’s no need to panic. I say this because I believe it is important that we, as fans, hold dearly to these precious few remaining moments. That whatever the eventual outcome of this season, (likely an all too brief beheading by the four-headed hydra otherwise referred to as Golden State) that we remain appreciative of what, in my opinion, has been the single greatest, most egalitarian triumph in the history of sport.