To paraphrase a recent post from Forbes, the first playoffs under newly minted NBA Commissioner Adam Silver are about to be underway, and he takes over a league as healthy as ever.
As Tom Van Riper writes on his SPORTSMONEY blog, the good news is that the NBA is flush with enough star power that not even the absence of traditional marque market teams in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles can quell enthusiasm for what should be an entertaining first round (at least in the Western Conference).
The bad news, I would argue, is that as the NBA narrows down its field to the very best in its league, the media attention will broaden its coverage, bringing new and uninformed opinions from paid writers who have largely ignored the league until the day after tax season ended. And some of these pundits will produce hack pieces that play on the worst insecurities of the San Antonio fan base.
Such as this hack piece produced by Van Riper:
"The bad news: the San Antonio Spurs are the best team in the league. Again. For what seems like, oh, the 20th year in a row, the Spurs are the top seed in the west and a favorite to reach the NBA Finals. That's the excruciatingly efficient and boring San Antonio Spurs. A team that's historically good yet bad for business. A team that plays in a small market and whose longtime superstar, Tim Duncan, isn't flashy. For the true hoops junkie, the Spurs are a joy to watch. For the casual masses – zzzz."
This is the type of drivel that has incurred the wrath of Spurs fans for the better part of the last two decades, but there's also little inherently wrong with it when you consider its source. Van Riper covers the business of sports, so his pay check comes from what he can analyze on the ledgers, not between the lines of play. This bit of brief work plays into his specific audience, which likely only drops in on the NBA with a passing glance. His opinion on this specific subject is no more relevant than the drunken frat boy at your local pub wearing a shiny new Kobe Bryant jersey whilst shouting, "count da ringzzz!"
Despite significant growth, the nation's seventh largest city still carries a bit of a small market inferiority complex when it comes to its lone major league sports team.
There's very little scientific poll data to support this statement, just enough time spent on Twitter and around the NBA blogosphere to know that at any time Grantland's Zach Lowe or CBS Sports' Matt Moore omit or quickly brush past the Spurs in any glowing league-wide piece, or offer the slightest bit of criticism, a large contingent of Spurs fans go into attack mode quicker than conservatives railing against any non-FOX News source reporting on the Chris Christie bridge scandal.
My point in bringing up this article is not making an offering for the comments section or Twitter to devour, but to provide some insight on any perceived national bias against the Spurs.
There is a huge difference between the informed NBA media, and the national media that just happens to cover the NBA from time-to-time. And in the NBA media ranks, the Spurs have received their fair share of attention and praise. The NBA blogosphere, and smart people like Henry Abbott over at the TrueHoop Network (where I got my start at the fantastic Spurs blog, 48 Minutes of Hell) have driven NBA coverage in fantastic new directions, and any internet real estate that focuses exclusively on the game, from X's and O's to advanced stats, or even its quirky nuances (hello Matt Bonner) has archives full of fantastic Spurs material. Their readers are already sold on basketball as one or their primary sources of entertainment, which allows for writers to go more in-depth.
But the NBA makes a good amount of its business from casual fans; the types of people who don't regularly seek out information from NBA devoted sources, like a business person browsing through, say, Forbes magazine. Writers reaching out to these audiences aren't selling basketball, they're selling entertainment. And this is where the disconnect between the two different types of media occurs.
The Spurs, more than most teams, are a basketball-sophisticated form of entertainment. For those that love and devote time and brain cells to basketball, the layers of actions and counteractions within their offense and defense are akin to Beethoven or Mozart's finest work.
Perhaps an even better analogy would be liquor. There are those, like the Spurs own Gregg Popovich, whose love and educated appreciation for liquors make wine-tasting reviews a must-read. Then there are those that just enjoy getting drunk and run to the nearest keg stand. Having lived in San Antonio and enjoyed Fiesta my entire life, I can proudly say that there's room in this world for both.
For those who are seeking any general form of entertainment, connections to basketball are made through quick highlight packages showcasing superhuman displays of athletic ability, any number of familiar narratives that can be applied to situations away from the basketball court, or something fresh and exciting.
Unfortunately, these are all areas the Spurs fall significantly short in.
Their best player is a stoic-faced center approaching his 40's whose best days featured a skill set that subtly moved defenders out of position rather than faking them out of their shoes (like the more aesthetically pleasing "Dream Shake" from Hakeem Olujawon).
And for all the pride Spurs fans take in their favorite team not showing off or coming off as self-aggrandizing (expletives), there comes an inability to see the irony in being outraged over the lack of superficial coverage of a team that goes out of its way not to self-promote.
Exciting features and news require sources and quotes, neither of which the Spurs are eager to provide. Creating narratives without insight from the principle actors is never an easy task for a writer, especially those charged with dropping in only once every other month for a routine checkup.
Most of you reading this fall into the category of fans who study basketball because they love it, but not every Spurs fan will. There are plenty of casual Spurs fans whose only connection to the NBA comes from sources outside of the NBA media, and this is where the insecurity persists. From reading writers like Van Riper, whose insights are no more informed than their own, and assuming this is the norm. Those feelings are then carried over to the few interactions such fans might have with basketball junkies like Lowe or Moore, who offer informed, outside perspectives on the matter while also covering the rest of the NBA.
There are a great number of writers and websites devoted to Spurs coverage, from traditional sources like the Express-News and their blog Spursnation, to 48 Minutes of Hell, Pounding the Rock, and Project Spurs (my other home).
Throughout the playoffs, I'll be happy to again be providing ESPN 1250 San Antonio with its own coverage right here, hopefully in a manner that appeals to both kinds of fans.