Tuesday, May 20, 2008

An Uprising from the Heartland

Many people think of the Spurs as some army of darkness preparing to march all over the face of the Earth, like R.C. Buford is that traitorous American guy who drinks from the wrong cup in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Popovich is an infinitely less attractive version of that deceitful Nazi chick. And much of the time the disdain others have for the Spurs only drives my passion. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved being the lone defender of the faith in a bar packed with people rooting for the Hornets last night. But its time, not just for Spurs fans, but for NBA fans, to focus on a bigger challenge. I am throwing down the gauntlet. For the good of the country we must defeat the L.A. Lakers.

I am sure this is a rallying cry many will reject, but my appeal is not to the nation as a whole, but to the ignored and the belittled, the underestimated and the unnoticed. This is an appeal to the fans of mid-market franchises.

I have always felt a special bond with the fans of teams who get little to no love from the media. It makes my blood boil every time the Eastern Sports Programming Network leads off with coverage of the Yankees, even when they are last in their division. Would the Baltimore Orioles ever get such generous coverage? I despise it when the people who call the “Byrd” years in Boston a dynasty even though the 80’s Celtics never won two in a row are the same people who say the Spurs aren’t a dynasty because they haven’t won it back-to-back.

The Spurs, like the Hornets, don’t get coverage because the league or the media slathers them with praise every time they successfully tie their shoes. They have had to earn it. But four rings later, they continue to push fallacious criticisms about our “boring” brand of basketball, despite the fact that Ginobili and Parker are two of the most dynamic players in the game. We could be a modern day manifestation of the Harlem globetrotters, but as long as we make our home on the Riverwalk, we’re not going to be an attractive franchise to corporate sports media.

Why the hell does the media drool all over the Celtics’ defensive-minded basketball, but quietly push the notion that the Spurs are “unwatchable?” The Celtics could be a .500 team and still get better coverage than the Spurs.

Or take the Knicks, for example. Awful seasons by Memphis and Milwaukee got no press whatsoever, but the turmoil in the house of Thomas was front page news 24-7. Minnesota only got press because of its long-standing relationship with Boston’s newest star. And Gasol’s trade to L.A. might as well be the only instance Memphis made it onto Sportscenter.

This is why I have always appreciated the Detroit Pistons as well. The color of their jerseys doesn’t automatically ensure them an SI cover; they earn every ounce of press they get. And how long did it take the country to wake up and notice the unbelievably astounding play of Chris Paul. Do you think it would have taken as long if he donned Laker Gold?

These conference finals aren’t just about two sets perennial rivals battling for bragging rights. It’s about conquering the best attempts of the NBA and ESPN to anoint the Lakers and the Celtics as teams of “destiny.” It’s about standing united in the face of a media apparatus that is ready to abandon New Orleans the minute it’s no longer chic to focus on its post-Katrina hardships*. It’s about every die-hard sports lover from the heartland who feels indignant because franchises supported by aloof bandwagoning fans get a leg up from the powers-at-be at every possible point along the way. This isn’t just about championships. It’s about respect.

*Ed. Note: My reference to Katrina is in no way meant trivialize the plight of the people of New Orleans or suggest that somehow basketball, much less Spurs basketball, has anything to do with the potential for a rejuvenated Crescent City. But in my frustrations I couldn't help but come across the fact that I find the entire corporate sports world's recent "support" of New Orleans to be disingenuous and condescending, and it saddens me to realize that such a beautiful city may go by the way side while the leagues and media pat themselves on the back for their generosity and successful P.R. campaigns. Just imagine how thorough the FEMA response would have been and how strong the relief effort would continue to be if a Hurricane hit a city in the Northeastern corridor.


DDC said...

Graydon. I couldn't agree with you more. Media drives perceptions and then perception becomes reality. Good post.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you. I will admit that I greatly dislike the Spurs, and also that my reasons for that are probably mostly irrational. But that's not because of the media. There is something genuinely unlikable about this Spurs team. I used to like the Robinson Spurs in the early 90's. I would like to say that the reasons for that are the flopping and cheap shots (a reputation they may or may not have earned), but it's probably mostly Duncan. He's a not a player that people like to root for. He doesn't act like a hero the way players like MJ, LeBron and even Shaq have. That probably reflects positively on him in real life, but I think fans like to watch the champion play the role of the hero, and it's unfulfilling when he doesn't do that.

While it's probably true that coverage is skewed towards the bigger markets, I think you guys have gotten plenty of revenge for that already. I think you do get respect in mainstream outlets, if not a ton of attention. And in the scheme of things, big market teams winning = more happy fans anyway.

By the way, I don't live in an NBA market, and I spend a good amount of time in (and root for) Cleveland.

Basketbawful said...

"Why the hell does the media drool all over the Celtics’ defensive-minded basketball, but quietly push the notion that the Spurs are 'unwatchable?' The Celtics could be a .500 team and still get better coverage than the Spurs."

For a couple reasons. The first of which is that the Boston Celtics are the Boston Celtics. The early to mid-90s Knicks were essentially the same team as the mid to late-90s Heat, but it seemed to me that feelings were (outside of, say, Chicago) generally more positive toward the Knicks than the Heat.

Secondly, you have a trio of good guys/media favorites -- KG, Truth and Shuttlesworth -- who have never won a title. If the Timmy, TP and Manu had been languishing away for years, alone and title-less, then banded together for a championship run, well, the feelings toward their basketball would probably be radically different.

The Spurs, obviously, suffer from overexposure. BUT...be careful in trying to throw a blanket over "the media" as branding the Spurs as unwatchable. Most of the mainstream media is effusive in their praise of The San Antonio Model. It's the fans who feel the Spurs are best viewed by candlelight.

In addition to overexposure, the Spurs suffer by being a small-market team. Yes, the Celtics will get more coverage on average than the Spurs, but this has more to do with what sells than that there's an actual media bias against the Spurs.

The Machine said...

Nice rallying cry. Kind of reminds me of 300. Didn't they all die at the end? The Lakers live up to the hype and they deserve it. These aren't Nick Van Exel's, Elden Campbell's, Cedric Ceballos', and Del Harris' Lakers. These Lakers will run you down and not look back. The Spurs will not win in L.A. this series. Thanks for coming.