My love of basketball, like any good love story, was born out of ordinary beginnings. I was thirteen years old, and my friend Darryl and I took a ride with my Dad down to the local TAB so he could put his bets on. He loved betting on the ponies, and still does to this day. My friend and I, being young and of limited attention spans, got bored among the sad and desperate men in the betting emporium and headed across the street to a shop called Basketball Buddies. Don’t go looking for it, it exists now as a tattoo parlor so Australia’s bogans can get their arms covered in ink as a means to be individualistic, just like every other fucker. It was a small store, maybe the dimensions of your standard-issue bedroom, but it was filled with paraphernalia from a land and culture that spoke to me at that time: the US of A.
There were posters, colorful hi-top sneakers, oversized jerseys, long socks, even figurines. We were in awe. The store itself was new, so new in fact that they were still fixing the shelves to the wall. An employee saw an opportunity for cheap (read: free) labor and enlisted our services to assist in the hanging of said shelving. We complied. Our payment would be the poster of our choosing.
So after roughly three minutes of hard labor we were free to select our remuneration. There were two players to choose from: Magic Johnson in Laker yellow, attempting a finger roll over a helpless opponent; and David Robinson, a tall and muscular man performing an impressive looking two-handed dunk over three people. Darryl and I, being casual basketball fans already, knew who Magic was. He was smiles and sunshine, Showtime personified. He was Hollywood! Darryl chose that poster as quickly as possible. I acquiesced, seeing as my friend came in wearing a Lakers jacket. He deserved that poster and clearly wanted it more than I.
So I was left with David Robinson. I liked it okay, and when I got back home I hung it on my bedroom wall and forgot about it. I kept watching basketball on Saturdays, back then that was the only time we Australians got to see NBA ball. A few hours every week was it. No internet, just Bill Woods/Steve Carfino on Channel 10 and a game of the week. Being the early 90s, it was mainly the Lakers, Bulls, Hornets, Blazers, Pistons and Knicks. If you were a teen and into ball you had to be a Lakers, Hornets or Bulls fan. Your favorite players could be anyone, as long as they were Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen or Larry Johnson. Anything else was sacrilegious.
So I went against the grain. There was a week to go in the regular season. The Bulls were playing the Spurs. The game was in Chicago because the Spurs were wearing their away black uniform. I loved, still love, that uniform. It looks menacing. The problem is, San Antonio don’t have menacing players, and never have really. Oh sure, for a couple of years they had Dennis Rodman, but he was more loopy than threatening.
But I digress. So the Bulls and Spurs played. MJ and Pip against the Robinson, Sean Elliott and very little else in terms of notable talent. My first sight of the man who up to this point had been an image on my wall, alongside my posters of my favorite films at the time (Point Break, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ghostbusters), as well as bands I enjoyed (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, The Cure). Here he was, the lanky man with extremely low body fat on my parent’s small wood grain television, running up and down the court like a gazelle. Robinson was (I assume still is) 7’1″ and 235 lbs and covered 94ft of hardwood quicker than opponents a foot shorter! It was amazing, truly a sight to behold. I was smitten. From that point forward I collected any item I could that was Spurs related, and David Robinson-centric in particular. Trading cards, jerseys, commemorative cups, you name it I blew my money on it.
Unfortunately though, the Spurs back in Robinson era were known as being strong in the regular season and inevitably came up short when it mattered in the playoffs. They lost to an upstart Golden State Warrior’s in the 1991 playoffs as a 2 seed. Run TMC took them out in 4 games. In 1993 they got eliminated by a renewed Charles Barkley and his Phoenix Suns, who went all the way to the Finals that year, only to come up short against Jordan’s Bulls. The 1993 Finals, despite not rooting for either team, might be my all time favorite Finals series. I think many old school NBA-heads would feel the same way.
So there were many disappointments. 1995 still haunts me. We (one of the great perks of being a fan is that you get to insert yourself into the history, like you’re an integral part of the franchise) made it all the way to the Conference Finals that year, facing a tough defending champion Houston Rockets. This is hard to watch:
The Rockets were a 6 seed that year, and went onto to win their second consecutive title. They won four straight series without homecourt, which is an amazing accomplishment. I can’t think of any team today that could pull that off. Hakeem Olajuwon destroyed David Robinson in their series, and Dennis Rodman threw his team under the bus with his antics. He was shipped off to the Bulls in the offseason and we were so desperate to get rid of him that we took lumbering big man Will Perdue back in a trade. The Bulls then went onto win the next three titles, though Jordan and Pippen deservedly get the kudos for those.
In 1997, the Spurs won the draft and landed Wake Forest’s Tim Duncan. The Boston Celtics were horrible the year prior, so bad in fact that they were convinced that they were going to win the NBA draft lottery and therefore the right to select Duncan with the first pick. This was going to put their dynasty back on track.
The Celtics ended up getting back to relevance in 2008, when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce to beat the Lakers in 6 games for the title. They would make the Finals again two years later, only to go down to the Lakers in 7 hard-fought games.
Drafting Duncan proved to be the shot in the arm that the franchise needed, and in Duncan’s second year the Spurs won their first NBA title, beating the New York Knicks in 5 games.
From there we won three more titles. 2003 against Jason Kidd and his New Jersey Nets. 2005 versus a defending champion Detroit Pistons. Who could forget Big Shot Bobby coming up big in Game 5! And in 2007 we took out a young LeBron James and the Cavs.
We’re going for title number 5 this year, against LeBron again. Game 1 was epic. This is my favorite moment from the playoffs so far this year:
The NBA has always been there for me, in good times and bad (October to June only). And that may sound corny and sappy, but it has provided me with so many fantastic memories over the past 20+ years and promises to do so for many more. I’ve never been to San Antonio. I’ve never even felt a pressing need to go there. I’m sure it’s perfectly lovely as a city. But I love the Spurs, and every championship means the world to me in a way that I can’t explain with any coherence. Maybe true love needs no explanation. Maybe it just exists until it doesn’t.