This clip of Tim Duncan at the podium with his kids is human and funny and charming. With their Game 5 win last night, the Spurs earned not only a championship, but the right to come to the podium second, after LeBron James and Dwyane Wade had already sat there a little sullen, dressed in muted yet still distinctly fashionable civilian wear. These Spurs, these consummate professionals, looked kinda like shit: jerseys doused in champagne and half-tucked, hats on crooked, dragging hardware in the case of Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard or accompanied by kids in the case of Duncan. In spite of being known as the “Daddest” team in the NBA, the children of the Spurs are not omnipresent at the fringes of the team the way Chris Paul, Jr. is with the Clippers. Their reluctance to let anyone in — from Gregg Popovich’s taciturn on-court interviews and clipped pressers to the team’s organizational reticence with regard to the media in general — is not what makes them great, but it might be a huge chunk of what makes them the Spurs.
It’s tempting to watch Duncan being warm and engaging, delivering dad jokes — like responding to a Stuart Scott question about the biggest difference between his first championship at the age of 23 and this one, at the age of 38 by saying, “Fifteen years, probably” — and to wish for he and the Spurs to be more like this, more often. But if we feel that we have to #LetWestbrookBeWestbrook for him to be the most fully realized him he can be, we must equally #LetTheSpursBeTheSpurs in this regard if they’re to maintain their unrivaled efficiency and craft. When teams talk fuzzily about “culture” and about “changing it,” this is what they mean, or should mean. Maybe more than any other team in the NBA, the Spurs have a culture — an unwritten set of standards and practices that aren’t directly about cause and effect, aren’t specifically about winning basketball games, but are about establishing an atmosphere, a lineage.
The students have learned well from the masters. When Kawhi Leonard was presented with an opportunity to delve into his inner workings by a reporter asking about the significance of winning the MVP on Father’s Day when his father was shot to death senselessly six years ago, Leonard replied simply, “Like I told you all, my dad died six years ago, and I really wasn’t thinking about him that much.”
You can take him at his word or not — it doesn’t much matter to Leonard. Speeches like those delivered movingly by Kevin Durant or Derrick Rose upon winning the MVP have become what we expect of athletes, of celebrities. We want that access, crave those emotional moments packaged into YouTube highlights we can share with our friends. And make no mistake, those moments can be amazing. They can turn your day around, or at least remind you that hope is just as capable of winning out as despair.
But for the Spurs, the hope is on the court. If you want to be moved by something, watch them play. If you want humanity, watch them fight back time and win. If you need a handful of clips of them genuinely acting like humans — their uniforms messy, their guard dropped just a hair — well, you’ve gotten all you’re likely to get for the next year. Just remember the joy is on the court. Their game speaks volumes even when they don’t.