So anyway, due to this game, I became a Dale Ellis fan and thus switched my NBA allegiance to whichever team he was playing for at that particular time. As it happened, Ellis was a journeyman, so I traded NBA loyalties more often than a Kardashian.
By the time the NES game was released, Ellis had already left the Bucks and had gone to San Antonio, where he played from 1992 to 1994. So yeah, boom, Spurs fan. Following Ellis briefly made me a fan of the Nuggets, SuperSonics, Bucks again and then the Hornets. Though really, by that time, I'd stopped caring, so I didn't get the chance to get one of those sweet Hornets Starter jackets. You'll notice that none of these teams were exactly big playoff threats in the 1990's (at least not while Ellis was there) so yeah, some pretty lean years. This is what I get for letting my fandom be decided by a video game. I'm lucky I didn't end up rooting for the LA Clippers since they, like Kirby in Kirby's Dreamland, alternated between sucking and blowing for years.
But hey, since I was ONCE a Spurs fan, I'm allowed to root for them to win the NBA title, right? I've always had a soft spot for this team, even in their "boring" years, since they just seemed like a solid, no-frills unit. It helped that Gregg Popovich is hilarious (check out his section in the "Overlords" section of this Grantland article) but mostly, it was because the Spurs had Tim Duncan. And I love Tim Duncan.
I wrote this last year…
Back when the Spurs had a 2-0 lead over the Thunder in the NBA semi-finals, I was preparing a Tim Duncan vs. Kobe Bryant discussion post that would've essentially argued that Duncan was the greater player of the two. 'Greater' is a nebulous term, of course, but my case would've been that if you were drafting an all-time team, you'd take Duncan first because of his incredible talent, his equal-to-Kobe championship caliber (San Antonio could've won its fifth ring in Duncan's tenure this spring), the fact that it's general basketball principle to always take a star big man over a star guard and the fact that Duncan's intangibles as a completely stable personality and a superb teammate counter Kobe's nonstop moody drama.
Then, however, the Spurs got blitzed by Oklahoma City and knocked out of the playoffs, meaning that unless San Antonio marshals its resources for another unlikely run in one of the next two years, this was probably Duncan's last chance at a fifth title. Kobe's five rings to Duncan's four, plus his superior counting stats, will probably give Bryan the duke over the Dunc for all time. But man, I dunno, I think I'd still rather take Duncan. I'm admittedly biased since Tim Duncan is one of my favourite athletes due to his overwhelming normality. (The Onion has made a small cottage industry out of stories about Duncan being a nice, bland, do-gooder.)
I stand by the argument that if you're drafting a TEAM, you take Duncan since he can fit in with anyone, whereas Kobe is a tougher nut to crack. I posited this argument to a few people and the consensus was that they'd rather have Kobe "since he's a guy who will make his own shot." It's a good debate. Man, maybe I should've written this post. Damn you, Kevin Durant and your holy-crap-they-are-beating-the-Spurs ways.
It's completely true. Say what you will about Bill Simmons' "pantheon of basketball," but I wholly stand by his assertion that Tim Duncan is the seventh-best player in NBA history, behind only the unquestioned tippy-top sextet of Jordan, Russell, Chamberlain, Magic, Bird and Kareem. I think everyone would agree that those are the best six ever, just a question of what order you'd rank them. (In fairness, LeBron will make this a septet if he keeps doing what he's doing for a few more years.) And then, kicking off the second tier of all-time legends, there's Duncan, Mr. Consistency himself.
Joe Posnanski's recent Duncan profile for NBCSports.com is chock full of cool little understated Duncan anecdotes and what I liked most about this piece is that I'd never heard any of these before. The "good, better, best" rhyme seems familiar but otherwise, this was all new to me. Hearing ANY kind of Duncan anecdote is revelatory since the guy is such a closed book and so keeps to himself.
How can you not root for a guy like this? How can you not root for Duncan to capture a fifth ring and top the cavalcade of (admittedly superbly skilled) nonsense that is the Miami Heat? It's ridiculous that beating the Heat would make some people finally take note of Duncan given that, y'know, the guy has four rings already and is already an all-timer but whatever, I somewhat doubt Duncan stays up at nights refreshing his Google Reader for complimentary articles about himself.
So in summation, I'm picking the Heat to win the title in six games since, c'mon. But I'm HOPING the Spurs can pull this off and win their fifth crown. That would be awesome. Duncan deserves it. The spirit of Dale Ellis deserves it.