America—at least in its own imagination—stands for certain things. For the idea that hard work and sound judgment bring success, and that success deserves celebration. That winners should be celebrated as long as they play by the rules. That teamwork, leadership, loyalty, and excellence all count for something. And that’s why the San Antonio Spurs, currently riding a stupendous run of 19 straight victories, are America’s favorite professional basketball team.
Except, of course, they aren’t. Not this year when they tied for the best record in the league, and not last year when they were the best in the West. Not in their 1999 championship run or the follow-ups in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Not for a single moment amid the glorious 15-year run with coach Gregg Popovich and big man Tim Duncan have the Spurs captured the imaginations of the American people or even its basketball fans. That’s because we are, ultimately, a nation of hypocrites that prefers drama queens, bad boys, and flukes to simple competence and success.
This year’s Spurs team somehow managed to earn less recognition than its predecessors even as it has finally demolished the longstanding excuses for America’s refusal to embrace our most successful sports franchise. Apologists for the American fan have long argued that the Spurs don’t get attention because they have a “boring” style of play. This was an arguably accurate characterization of San Antonio’s 2005 championship squad. Those Spurs were a slow-paced, defense-first team, anchored by solid perimeter rotations, Duncan’s ability to control the paint, and Bruce Bowen’s grabby hands on the perimeter.