May 8, 2008 – Dr. Anklesnap
The San Antonio Spurs are winners. Plain and simple. This cannot be disputed as they have dominated the NBA for almost the last decade. With four NBA titles in the last nine years, and being contenders in the other five, the Spurs are the benchmark for every franchise in the league. Much of this can be attributed to the Spurs acquisition in the 1997 NBA Draft of one of the greatest power forward/center’s in league history. Tim Duncan.
But aside from winning, what else are the Spurs becoming known for?
To opposing fans and media the Spurs are becoming synonymous with words like ‘dirty’, ‘shady’, ‘cheaters’, ‘cheap shot’, ‘rule exploiters’ etc. etc. Bruce Bowen has taken the majority of this flack from anyone and everyone, for his overly aggressive style of defense. From kicks to grabs, and trips to ankle rolling, Bowen has been the subject of much discussion on the fine line between what is a tough aggressive defender and what is a dirty one. But the reputation the Spurs are developing is not just about Bowen. Remember Horry’s body check of Steve Nash into the scorer’s table in the 2007 NBA Playoffs when the game was clearly out of reach for San Antonio? How about Coach Gregg Popovich in this year’s playoff series against the Phoenix Suns exploiting the off the ball fouling rules in what has been unanimously coined the “Hack-a-Shaq”? And finally let’s not forget the regular controversy over the seemingly perfected technique of “flopping” by the hyperactive Manu Ginobili and Fabricio Oberto.
I’ve got to agree with the Spurs supporters on one thing. This is a man’s game. At some point regardless of the perceived injustice you have to just man up and fight through the best the defense throws at you. One thing is for sure, winning isn’t easy, but it’s definitely worth the fight if you can get there. Here’s my take on a few of the issues:
There should be no place in basketball for flopping. The NBA should have cut this off when it first started happening, instead of waiting years to clarify the rule. The problem now is that the flopping technique has been evolved and perfected by some players to the point its next to impossible for the referees to distinguish between a charge and a flop. In large part I blame the ‘restricted area’ underneath the basket, as it discourages players from attempting to block shots. If you look at the number of blocks the NBA leaders have every year it is slowly but surely being degraded in favor of attempting to take a charge outside the restricted area, this flopping phenomenon is a disgrace to the game. Between 1998-2008 the NBA leader in blocks only cracked 300 for the year one time. In the previous ten years to that (1987-1997) the NBA leader in blocks broke the 300 blocks mark 9 out of the 10 years. For you visual folks, here is what we are talking about:
On the ball flopping:
Off the ball flopping:
I am hoping and praying that this summer David Stern and company take a long look at what happened in the Suns-Spurs series and either extend the intentional foul interpretation to cover these types of off-the-ball fouls, or create a new rule avoid the egregious abuse of the rules. I know Popovich was well within his rights to use the Hack-a-Shaq and he gets big bucks to find these loop holes in the rules and exploit them to the benefit of his employer, but it really does ruin the spirit of the game for all those involved. Brian McCormick probably said it best this post-season regarding the Hack-a-Shaq.
Over the years I’ve heard many people come to the defense of Bruce Bowen by calling his tactics strong aggressive defense. And when asked about the regular occurrence of Bowen sticking his feet underneath the offensive player as they come down from jump shots as a perimeter “closeouts”. C’mon, maybe if it happened just once or twice it could be chalked up to a strong perimeter closeout where the defender couldn’t stop completely on a dime and their foot slid underneath the shooter, but the recurrences are getting pretty glaring. For a better visual:
The Body Check
Everyone who has played a competitive sport knows that sometimes tempers flare, and the game gets heated. But there is no place in any sport for the type of hit Robert Horry (6’10”, 245 lbs) put on Steve Nash (6’2”, 178lbs) in the Western Conference Finals last year when the game was completely out of reach for the Spurs in the closing minutes. What is the most surprising about the situation was that the hit was put on Nash who is generally considered one of the most sportsmanlike ambassadors of the league. In my opinion the suspension Horry received was much too short. Stu Jackson really should have ended the season of Horry for the hit. Here’s the hit below, what do you think?
So there it is. Are the Spurs a dirty team? I’m still not sure I can answer one way or the other. But for a final though I’ll leave you with this….when I was a kid learning the game I remember my Dad telling me stories about his playing days and some of the ‘tricks of the trade’ for an effective (but clearly illegitimate) style of defense. Everything from grabbing shorts, to stepping on toes, to pulling leg hair. I used to tell my dad he was ‘old-school’ and how no one does that crap anymore. So maybe after all is said and done, the Spurs aren’t dirty; they are just “old-school”? Hmmmm