I am David Stern's prime target. I'm a basketball player, and fan, even in bad times. The NBA had me at "Fo, fo and fo." I attended the last game the Kansas City Kings played in KC, which, perhaps more than anything else I could say, is evidence that I Love This Game. I've watched at least one game of every NBA finals since 1980.
Except this year.
Spurs-Cavs held no appeal for me, and apparently none for the members of my basketball team, who also tuned out. Along with "Why the hell did we go 1-7 last season?" the question that keeps us Exterminating Angels up at night is this: Why can't we bear to watch Tim Duncan?
After all, Duncan is exactly the kind of guy a team of left-leaning, unathletic (well, at least in my case) basketball fundamentalists should embrace. He plays smart, efficient, winning basketball; he's a terrific team player who makes the people around him better; he's by all accounts a decent, stand-up guy. And yet, while the Spurs were dismantling the Cavs, we were all pretending the playoffs ended when Stoudamire got suspended, and wondering whether the Blazers should take Durant (who, by the way, wants to get a little Starbury action of his own) or Oden.
It's not just us. TV ratings were horrible for the series, especially considering that the other half of the card featured the man the league hopes is the next Jordan. And Bill Simmons says he has been far more excited by the NBA draft than the playoffs.
So what makes Tim Duncan so hard for me to watch?
I think it’s because he embarrasses me. You look at this guy, perhaps the greatest power forward ever to play the game, and you don’t think that he is some freak of nature that does things you could never do. This, by the way, is not true–though he can’t jump, doesn’t look particularly cut and has absolutely no idea what to do at the free throw line, Tim Duncan is of course a genetic marvel. But he doesn’t look all that impressive, and, more important, his game doesn’t look all that impressive. You look at, say, Iverson, and think there’s no way you could develop that crossover. You look at Duncan and think he’s fundamentally sound, sure, but doesn’t do anything that seems out of the question for you to do as well.
And that’s why, I think, in the end we aren’t thrilled by Tim Duncan. Because he is a transcendent player not because of his obvious physical gifts, but because of his obvious dedication. Tim Duncan is the player he is because he’s very smart, works very hard and gives maximum, consistent effort. He makes us think that, had we just been willing to do the same, we, too, might be great. Which is either inspirational or depressing, I suppose, but not the stuff that idols are made of.