Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spurs Endorse Winning, Not Themselves

It feels like every time I turn on the TV, I see a commercial with an athlete pitching some kind of product.

Blake Griffin is telling a KIA to play the "Best of George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars,"  LeBron wants me to WITNESS (and I have, his 4th quarter meltdowns), and Dwyane Wade is gliding through a Gotham City knockoff in some kind of flying squirrel suit while talking to his equivalent of Lucius Fox, Kevin Hart.  (For the record, no one is Lucius Fox besides Morgan Freeman.  It should be considered a crime for anyone to even try to mimic that, but I digress).

Griffin, Bron, and Wade are just three athletes who constantly fill commercials breaks while I'm watching games or reruns of Saved By the Bell.  And that's just basketball.  I can't forget about Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Chad Ochocinco.  Even Brett Favre still finds his way onto my TV screen from time to time, ironically selling jeans that are zipped all the way up, which let's me know he doesn't properly utilize the product he endorses.  Alexander Ovechkin, Andy Roddick, and Joe Mauer also make their commercial rounds often.

These athletes are exciting and fun to watch, making it easy for them to push products.

But, let's do some math.  Add up the championships of all of those players.  The number you get is five.   Wade - 1, Manning -1, Rodgers -1, Favre - 1, and Roddick - 1 Major.  The rest have a collective, ZERO.  Five titles out of a group of "Superstar" athletes.

Tim Duncan alone has four and, if things keep going the way the are, he is going to start rocking an Archbishop Don Magic Juan-type thumb ring very soon.

Yet, the Mad Men-style board rooms aren't banging down the door for the Big Fundamental, or any of his teammates, to sell their products.  Duncan is seen as dull and "boring."  But, as my good friend (although he doesn't know this) Jason Whitlock, so articulately points out, there is nothing boring about winning.

Tim Duncan is a winner.  He has been the face of the San Antonio Spurs for a more than a decade and during that time has made the franchise into the NBA equivalent of the New England Patriots, who often get labeled a DYNASTY.  Except, Duncan and the Spurs, have even more titles (four) than Bieber and the Boys. ahem I mean, Brady and the Boys (three).

 I am an NBA fan to the core.  I start watching when the season starts, not just after the All-Star break.  I am going to do a very un-Spurish thing now, and toot my own horn.  I've been on the record as predicting the Spurs would win the title since February, assuming they stayed healthy.  They are the most balanced team, who can play at any pace, and match up with any lineup.

So, to me, it's remarkable that they are so often overlooked.

It's almost cliche now to say the reason the Spurs don't get the attention they deserve because they are "boring."  I'm not sure if Webster's Dictionary has redefined the word, but, to me, boring is not a team that averages more than 100 points a game, has a mix of young and old talent gelling perfectly, and a coach who likes his things "Nasty."  I recall a certain fluffy football coach in New York who liked things, specifically feet, a little "NASTY" and the sports world flipped on its head in excitement.  And, that coach's team didn't even make the postseason, let alone win every game for almost two months like Gregg Popovich and the Spurs have done.

The Spurs aren't boring, they are unusual.  Which is not an insult to them, but to the rest of society.

San Antonio has become an anomaly, with Tim Duncan as its leader.  He has set a standard of a solid, consistent work ethic, without seeking out the praise for doing the job he is paid handsomely to do.  His teammates have followed suit.

Tony Parker, who has been an all-star for years, raised his level of play this year to an MVP-caliber.  He stayed hungry.  Manu Ginobili is an international star, but continues to play within the system, while adding his own flair.  Then guys like Danny Green, who was cut by the CAVALIERS, let me reiterate that, DANNY GREEN, WHO WAS WAIVED THE FALL BEFORE THE CAVS BECAME THE WORST TEAM IN BASKETBALL two years ago, is now a KEY STARTER for the BEST TEAM IN BASKETBALL.

Tim Duncan and the Spurs have established a culture of winning that is so abnormal in the modern sports world.  San Antonio is all about WE not ME.

I imagine some of the reason the Spurs don't get the attention of teams such as the Heat, Lakers, or Oklahoma City is that they push away from it.  Their players aren't at Vegas parties giving dap to Lil Wayne, or changing their name to Metta World Peace, or dressing like a cross between Ms. Frizzle and Sally Jesse Raphael.   In other words, they aren't self promoters.

The sports world buys into the gimmicks of commercials, crazy fashion, and outrageous antics because it makes for easy talking points.  It's fun.  But, breaking down the Spurs 90-plus pick-n-rolls a game isn't sexy.  It's monotonous and we live in a culture where doing things consistently is outweighed by doing things with flash, no matter the end result.

The Spurs handle business on the court and then act like businessmen off it.  They don't promote a champion persona through hype, they promote through performance.

They want to be known as winners and getting caught up in anything else is a distraction.  That's not the Spurs way.

San Antonio still has a way to go if they hope to win their fifth title in 13 years, but for teams that are trying to become champions, they should model themselves after a winner's winner, Tim Duncan, Gregg Popovich, and the San Antonio Spurs.

The Spurs don't have to sell themselves, because their winning does it for them.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Josh Hamilton: Star Power

On the surface, Josh Hamilton looks like anything but a role-model.  A former alchoholic with tattoo sleeves is not exactly the type of guy moms want their sons hanging posters of, but the Rangers outfielder is the definition of what a sports hero should be.

Last night, Hamilton blasted a Major League record-tying four two-run home runs against a hot Orioles ballclub.  He is the best player on the best team in baseball.  But, it's not Hamilton's arm or bat that separates him from other modern day "superstar" athletes, it's his ability to battle through setbacks.

Off-field stories are usually not a good sign for pro athletes.  Mug shots, infidelity, and over-the-top spending seem more apart of sports culture today than what happens on gameday.  Athletes are celebrities.  The best are groomed to be in the spotlight at an early age.

Josh Hamilton is no different.  His story is well documented.  He was an all-world prospect who flamed out early in his career because of drug and alcohol addictions.  He then turned his life around becoming an annual MVP candidate and leading the Texas Rangers to back-to-back World Series appearances.

But, over the past year, Hamilton's life had a pair of turning points that could have derailed his recovery.  The first came on a perfectly sunny afternoon at the ballpark when he was trying to make a young fan's day by flipping him a ball.  The boy's dad went to grab it, flipped over the rail, and fell to his death.   Hamilton is in no way to blame for the tragedy, but it no doubt weighed on him heavily.

Then, during the off-season just months after his team essentially gave away a world championship, Hamilton relapsed and had a few drinks at a bar.

What he did following that setback was the most impressive showing by an athlete I've seen in quite some time.  He sat in front of the media and took the heat.  He made a mistake and talked openly about it in a press conference.  He didn't try to hide his problem or blame others for his lapse in judgement.  Hamilton stood in there just as tough as he does in the batters box and met the critiscism and concern head on.

Hamilton was voice for millions of others who are dealing with their own form of addiction.  He is a monster athlete who showed he too can be torn down by something bigger.  But, committing to overcome that problem, and doing so somewhat publicly, proved Hamilton is more than just a strong man, he is a role-model.

That was months ago and his demons, I imagine, still haunt him daily.  But, at least on the field Hamilton has cast those aside and is putting together another remarkable season.

He leads all of baseball, both the American and National Leagues, in batting average (.406), home runs (14), and runs batted in (36).

Sports is in an era where its stars are babied and pampered.  Excuses are made more frequently than clutch performances.  Stars tell us how great they are and then often are just the opposite.

Josh Hamilton is different. He talks openly about his flaws and struggles.  He knows his star sometimes flickers, but he is an example of how good can prevail if you accept that life is a constant battle to get better.

Hamilton will go through slumps on and off the field again, that is almost guaranteed.  But, how he has handled all of his setbacks proves in the end he will still be standing and unfortunately for Major League Baseball pitchers, standing tall and strong in the batters box continuing to belt homers near the stars like he did Tuesday night.  That's appropriate, considering Hamilton is as bright of a star as there is today.