photo via instagram/joethegetupkid
Seven years is an eternity in the National Basketball Association. When the San Antonio Spurs last captured the NBA crown in 2007, David Stern was the commissioner, Donald Sterling lurked in the shadows, and the Brooklyn Nets were still stranded in the swamplands of New Jersey. Kawhi Leonard, your 2014 Finals MVP, was a high school gym rat planting the seeds for a storybook ascension that those in Bexar County have witnessed with attentive eyes.
Don’t get it twisted, San Antonio’s five NBA championships all date back to May 18, 1997 when the basketball gods blessed the Spurs with the rights to draft a Demon Deacon named Tim Duncan. Almost immediately, Duncan’s uncanny gifts subverted the traditional NBA narrative where success could only come through repeated failure. By delivering San Antonio its first title in only his second season, Duncan effectively thumbed his nose at the outdated system that dictated it was Magic and Bird, who begat Isiah, who begat Jordan, etc.
In recent history though, throughout the team’s victories, injuries, and collapses, Kawhi Leonard has been the on-court embodiment of the hope and future potential of the franchise. After the OKC blitzkrieg that ended his rookie season and the missed free throw in last year’s infamous Game 6, watching Bill Russell hand Leonard the trophy that bears Russell’s name was damn near euphoric. That it came on Father’s Day, with his dad, Mark, looking down from above was merely poetic.
“It was a very special meaning for me knowing that he's gone and I was able to win a championship on Father's Day,” Leonard told the Express-News. “But I'm happy just winning the championship.”
As the fireworks lifted into the sky and the car horns echoed into the night, I thought about my late grandfather whose love for “la lucha” unwittingly sent me down the path of a sportswriter. Octavio left this planet last year, three days before the Finals began so somehow things like a Game 7 in Miami were no longer an emotional priority. Last night, as San Antonio closed in on a fifth title I hugged my father, I embraced my son, and I remembered how much joy a basketball game can bring to a city of champions.