This column is completely biased to what I like and my personality, but since fewer than 100 people will read it and they know it’s my opinion, I’m pretty sure no one is going to call for my head.
I really wish that the Western Conference Finals were the NBA finals this year. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect matchup. I’ve decided to break down why it is so great into bite-sized points that you can choose to read at your leisure:
1. All Hail the Small Markets: No one denies that there are additional challenges to building a successful franchise in a small media market. You have far less margin for error. You can’t be in play on every player that comes available. You have to cut some corners. You may have to take fewer risks. Etc. That’s the nature of the beast. But this series perfectly shows that with the right leadership, you can absolutely win in those markets. San Antonio and Oklahoma City are #26 and #27 respectively among the media markets of the U.S. Based NBA teams. They are 2 of only 7 franchises that aren’t in the Top 23 media markets in the country (they are in #37 & #45). This is the perfect matchup for all of the “little guys” out there.
2. The Spurs Way: Wait OKC fans, don’t tune out…you’re here too. During the Gregg Popovich Era in San Antonio there has been a way of doing things in San Antonio. It’s smart basketball. Don’t be flashy for the sake of being flashy. Play defense. Don’t turn the ball over. Do what it takes even if it isn’t glamorous. The stars lead by example, not by words. The role players know their place and embrace it. Not surprisingly Sam Presti, who runs the Thunder, came from San Antonio. Those same principles are done by the Thunder. The only difference is that Durant and Westbrook and company are younger and a bit more athletic so you see a few more highlight plays from them. But when you do they typically aren’t for the sake of flash. It’s Durant hitting buzzer beaters. It’s Serge blocking shots. It’s Westbrook beating his defender off the dribble. It’s good “Spurs” basketball….version 2.0.
3. The Stars:
Tim Duncan – Every coach’s dream. Every teammate’s dream. When your nickname is The Big Fundamental you clearly play the game the right way. Whether it was David Robinson’s team or his team he has always led by example. And most recently he has understood his limitations and accepted reduced playing time so that he can be whatever the team needs. He doesn’t give you sound bites. He’s happy to let his teammates be in the limelight. He simply collects rings and moves higher and higher on the list of the greatest power forwards ever.
Kevin Durant – Still learning and getting better. Oh, and did I mention 2-time scoring title winner at age 23?! He keeps getting better overall and in big situations. Want more? He’s still humble. He’s still surprised that he made it to the NBA. He still gives his mom a hug and a kiss on the court after every game. He’s genuinely likeable. He was in school for 1 year, and actually went to class and had a great GPA. The week Lebron filmed The Decision, Durant quietly tweeted that he signed an extension and he was thrilled to be staying in Oklahoma.
4. Personal Bias – My 3 favorite players in the league right now are Triple-D… Duncan, Durant, & Dirk. So this series is everything I could possibly want on the heels of Dirk getting his first title last year.
Ok, so I could go on, but here’s the bottom line. The quality of play is going to be fantastic. The players are stellar. If you are a fan of good professional basketball, this is your series. Soak it up.
My Pick: I’m completely torn, so I have to go with the x-factor that has nothing to do with basketball when it comes to my pick. The Spurs have the only 2 guys I have any issues with (Stephen Jackson for his role in the Brawl at Auburn Hills; and Tony Parker for what he did to Brent Barry) on these two teams, so I’m going to go the unscientific route and not pick the team that has won 18 straight games and 2 straight playoff sweeps. Oklahoma City in 7