Memo to Heat Fans.
A few hours from now, The Miami Heat will try to defend its NBA title in game one of a rematch against the San Antonio Spurs. This is the first rematch since the 1997-1998 Chicago Bulls versus Utah Jazz finals in which the Karl Malone and John Stockton-led Jazz lost in both encounters. Indiana Pacers Coach Frank Vogel described LeBron James and the Miami Heat as the “Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls of our era” a few days ago. But does this imply that the Heat are headed for a three-peat? Will the Spurs lose in two straight finals appearances to the same team like the Utah Jazz did?
It is safe to argue in favor of the dominant LeBron James, who is without a doubt the greatest basketball player on the planet right now. However, as anyone with an esoteric understanding of basketball knows, the Spurs have an edge in this series. This isn’t merely because the Spurs finished with a league best record of 62-20 in the regular season. The edge they have was instrumental to how they racked up so many wins en-route to the playoffs. On the surface, the Miami Heat has everything in its favor: on-the-court athleticism and electrifying dunks and off-the-court glamour and hype. The Spurs, however, are without luster; no sweatbands, no tattoos, nothing fancy about the team. Even their style of playing does not impress the present generation of basketball fans as it is devoid of highlight plays. No fancy and ankle-breaking crossovers, no ferocious rim-rocking dunks; nothing electrifying to rattle opponents.
But there is something beautiful about the way the team coached by Gregg Popovich has been playing for about a decade and half now. Passing. Truth be told, basketball has lost one of its finest attributes which is pure and unselfish distribution of the ball. Not the type of distribution orchestrated by only point guards in order to be at the top echelon of assists per season. The type of passing implemented by the Spurs is just basic basketball and everyone on the team understands this. Watch as many tapes as you can, draw as many plays as you can come up with for your team, but Coach Pop knows one thing and that is simplicity. It is said that simplicity is the best form of creativity. But beyond that, simplicity yields good results. Malcom Gladwell wrote in Blink that overloading teams – be it hospital doctors or military personnel – with information often makes decision making difficult and puts the team in conflict in situations requiring spontaneous action. And this is no truer than in basketball where split-second decisions are crucial. In this sport, every millisecond is important as there is no time for poring over information. It is expected that professional basketball players are highly trained and have been made to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their opponents in order to know what to undermine and what to revere. But beyond this, the simplicity of the game, which is characterized in unselfishness and demonstrated in constant ball movement, is crucial to winning on any level. Passing is the fundamental element that coaches instill in young lads learning the game. Be it basketball for ten-year olds, playground hoopers, amateur teams, or at the professional level, unselfish ball movement is the most fundamental aspect of basketball. Yes, getting the ball into the basket is what counts at the end of the day, but for efficient shots to be made, the process is equally crucial, if not more. The San Antonio Spurs understand this and that has yielded success for the team all these years.
Just a point of note here. Save for the messianic shot of salvation by Ray Allen in Game 6 of the 2013 finals, the Spurs had the title for what seemed like a few seconds. But anyone that knows Allen understands that he isn’t nicknamed Jesus just for a movie script. He saved the Heat and kept valid the King James Version and the prophecy to deliver multiple championships to Miami. Will there be a second coming of Jesus? Well, lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice….Meanwhile, enjoy the video of the Spurs offense below.
“You always come into the game ‘pass first’, but you always have to have the threat of scoring” – Isiah Thomas