by Manuel Solis
“I think I’ve become more focused,” says Danny [Green] matter-of-factly.
Photo by Josh HuskinAs I embark from the West Side of San Antonio to the Spurs suburban practice facility on a bright Monday morning, I decide to count the Spurs flags along the way to pass the time. This car game is akin to another that my 6-year-old son invented, but a lot more optimistic than counting the stray dogs that populate the streets in our part of town. Having spotted four flags waving from various vehicles, I arrive at my destination much like the Spurs, searching for one more piece of fabric.
The media workroom which has served as a set for many an HEB commercial is packed to capacity and it’s the usual sausage fest. Save for ESPN’s Colleen Dominguez and another young journalist, the narrow room is staggered with middle-aged men wearing either cargo shorts or, as my former Current colleague Rudy Gayby would describe them, “bad jeans.” The vibe is reminiscent of a classroom at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest where one instinctively scans the room for another person of color and isn’t exactly comforted by the numbers.
Inside the cavernous gym it’s all about the basketball, as various Spurs put in work on the two pristine, parallel full courts. An additional two hoops run across both courts and each backboard is labeled 1 to 6 in clockwork fashion. At hoop 6, DeJuan Blair works on his free throw stroke with Spurs Assistant Coach and shooting guru Chip Engelland looking on. Matt Bonner does the same at hoop 1 and is soon joined by Manu Ginobili who shoots jumpers from the right wing.
A short diagonal from the media throng near hoop 4, Patty Mills shoots from the left wing, punctuating each attempt with two power dribbles. He pounds the ball with such force that on more than one attempt, it flies out of his shooting hand. Over his shoulder, Tim Duncan approaches with his familiar knee brace briefly resting on the top of his head before facing the cameras and scrum of reporters extending their iphones.
“They make good adjustments,” says Duncan when asked about his Western Conference Finals opponent the Memphis Grizzlies. “They’re very well coached. Along with that they bring the effort and that’s what you need. They’re gonna bring that energy. They’re gonna play hard. They’re gonna crash that board and we know all that’s coming. We can’t be satisfied with the first win.”
As Duncan continues in his usual monotone, I spot Danny Green off to the side and make my way over. In many ways Green serves as the physical embodiment of how far the Spurs have come since 2011 when the Grizzlies embarrassed them in the first round of the playoffs. In that series Green played a scant seven minutes, after averaging 5 points in eleven minutes during eight regular season appearances. On Sunday afternoon alone Green played almost twenty-six minutes, scoring 16 points in the 83-105 blow-out win over Memphis. I ask him how he’s evolved as a player and a person since the last time these two teams met in the post-season.
“I think I’ve become more focused,” says Danny matter-of-factly. “I’m able to stay in focus for a longer period of time, more consistent. That’s helped me be more consistent and I think it had to do with keeping my focus. I think I’ve become a more mature player and person. Mentally I’m at a better place and I’m stronger and more confident.”
After riding shotgun on interviews with Tracy McGrady and Kawhi Leonard I take a moment to admire the four championship banners that hang on the adjacent wall. Away from the rafters and here closer to the ground, they seem slightly less mythical, almost attainable and maybe that’s the point. As I make my way out, I take another glimpse up and can’t help but feel that the Western Conference Championship banners are almost an afterthought here.