The past few days, as a Heat-Spurs NBA Finals seemed like destiny–an assumption that proved a bit premature last night as the Thunder held serve on their home court and shellacked the Spurs–the teams’ stylistic differences have been magnified. The Heat were built from free agency, the foundation of the Spurs comes from the draft. San Antonio has some of the most beautiful ball movement in basketball history while Miami gets a lot of its scoring from Dwyane Wade and LeBron James iso sets. You never know where the Spurs’ scoring will come from on any given night while you know that if the Heat live and die by LeBron and Wade’s production.
The differences extend beyond than their play on the court. Does this explain the diametrically opposite styles?
In his 16th season as Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich is the longest consecutively tenured head coach in the league. (Doc Rivers, who is 2nd, has been coaching the Celtics for half as long.) Erik Spoelstra, who has outlasted every other head coach in the league with the exception of Popovich, Rivers, George Karl, and Scott Skiles (hired by the Bucks one week before the Heat gave the job to Spoelstra), nonetheless feels like the fresh-faced newcomer who worked his way up from video intern to head coach in the Heat organization. (Can you believe only four coaches have now had their jobs longer?)
Popovich has the capital for his best player, Tony Parker, to take loud criticism constructively while Dwyane Wade fought back aggressively when he was playing poorly in the Pacers series.
On FoxSports, Jason Whitlock says that the Spurs’ stars Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli are more coachable than LeBron James and Dwyane Wade because they had more stable upbringings:
I am not dumping on James and Wade. I like and respect them. I’m rooting for them to win the championship this season. I think they are good people. In fact, they’re my two favorite athletes at the moment.
I just happen to believe their difficult upbringings make it hard for them to trust and submit to the will of authority figures. We know James was raised by a teenage mother who had some problems. We know Wade’s mom had problems with drugs and Wade credits an older sister for his upbringing.
It’s my belief Wade and James have childhood emotional scars that impact their ability to consistently operate in a team environment. Most of us have childhood emotional scars. Some scars — any kind of parental abandonment — are just deeper than others.
After thinking about this column for a day, I still am not sure where I stand on it. Whitlock lacks the medical education and experience that one would hope for in deriving this sort of diagnosis but that does not necessarily mean he’s wrong. That being said, while I could see this being a piece of the equation, there are other factors at play.
On ESPN, J.A. Adande traces the Spurs’ contemporary success directly to the influence of David Robinson:
Perhaps Duncan’s nature would have led him to be just as selfless on his own. Or maybe the early years of a player’s career are like the formative years of a child’s psyche. I read a study that showed that a tumultuous household can be seared into a young person’s mind to the point that it becomes the norm, and the brain will constantly seek a return to that state, disrupting healthy relationships if necessary to achieve the imbalance to which it’s accustomed.
Anyone with a psychology degree want to weigh in?
(A counter-argument to this would be Stephen Jackson, who played on the Spurs early in his career, threw the most memorable haymakers in the Malice at the Palace, led the 8-seed Warriors to an improbable first round upset of the Mavericks, then quit on the Warriors, Bobcats, and Bucks in rapid succession before re-joining the Spurs and thriving again.)
While the Thunder still might have something to say about it, a Spurs-Heat final would be fascinating, almost like the possible Mayweather-Paquaio fight which it seems like we’re never going to get to see.
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