It’s sitting in my DVR. I know it’s there because I saw the red light. I pressed record, it came on, and I forgot about it. But by the end of the night, as my pounding heart slowed and my hands stopped shaking, that light seemed to have gotten brighter. When I finally turned off the TV, it was positively glaring. It was always there, but somehow I had ignored it. When I pumped my fist in the air as goosebumps covered my arm, when I called my wife about where to meet for the downtown celebration, when I slammed my fist on the kitchen counter as the game slipped away – that cruel light stayed on, reminding me that this was indeed already a part of basketball history.
I haven’t gone back to watch the game. It was a classic, and it will be a NBA TV staple for years to come. But I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again. There will be things in this game to go over, things here to study as we look back on the careers of some incredible players. But I’ll never be able to watch it again. No matter how Game 7 goes down, this game will always occupy that place in my mind where the cruelty of enjoying something I have no control over finally beat me to a pulp. It was an incredibly exciting, visceral, deeply emotional experience, but the fires it stoked inside are not memories I find important to revisit.
I love this team. For most of the people in this city, the Spurs are a part of your family. When you go back and look at family photos, there’s your uncle, wearing his beloved ’05 championship shirt. That’s your first car in the background of that picture, and you’ve proudly displayed a Spurs logo flag on the driver’s side window. In the pictures from that Christmas five years ago, your grandma is in her favorite chair, smiling and holding a McDonald’s Spurs cup. (And if she’s really cool, it is of course a Matt Bonner special.) Put simply, the Spurs are family in San Antonio.
In a podcast with Bill Simmons a few weeks ago, Steve Kerr recalled the emotional return home after his incredible, unexpected three-point barrage in Dallas, now affectionately referred to as “The Steve Kerr” game. What he described shocked Bill Simmons, but it wouldn’t surprise any of us who grew up with this team. On the drive down his block, the entire neighborhood had come out. There were signs on lawns, people wearing jerseys, kids screaming his name. As Kerr pulled into his driveway, he noticed somebody had even written out a thank you note on his driveway.
This is standard here. Fans go to the airport at 3:00 in the morning to welcome back the team. They recognize important performances or big games as they happen and react accordingly. The whole city goes into a confused stupor in the days between a lost Game 6 and the mystery and finality of a terrifying Game 7.
Ah, that Game 7. You’ve surely read or seen much about Legacies™ in the past few days. How will this game define Lebron James? How will this series impact how Tony Parker is remembered? The truth is this game won’t define any legacies. None. Not a single one. Gregg Popovich was right when he dismissed the question (joking that his legacy would be “food and wine”). If this is how these men are going to be remembered, then we didn’t really care all that much for them anyway.
Game 7 is huge. I get that. Right now, it’s massively important to two fanbases, to two teams of players aching from the wear of a long season, and to two coaches that have schemed and plotted to get them here. But in ten years, you’ll forget it. It’s a sad truth. I mean, sure, you’ll be able to remember the series, who hit the big shots, who failed to show up, and all that. But if you’re a fan, you’ll still forget the emotion this series wrenched from your chest. You won’t remember the anguish of seeing that Allen shot drop and knowing a championship may have slipped away any more than you can recall the devastation you experienced when Manu Ginobili inexplicably fouled Dirk Nowitzki seven years ago. And you know what? You should forget that. You should move on.
Right now, it hurts. And tomorrow, it may hurt even more. But big sports losses don’t define legacies anymore than your failed attempt at a work presentation defines you. Popovich’s response is not a flippant excusing of a “big” question. It’s an acknowledgment that a legacy is defined by more than a career choice. Think back on those same pictures of your relatives. Your uncle? The one in the Spurs shirt? Do you remember him for what he did for forty hours a week, Monday through Friday? How about your immediate family? Would you say your dad’s legacy starts with his career as a salesman? (“I certainly hope not.” – Dad)
This is a game, and we’re invested. At times, it’s great. At times, it sucks. You cry with the emotion of victory, and you cry with the frustration of defeat. You wear your goofy personalized jersey, tucked in your jeans even, because you are just so proud of the way this team fought all year. You tear off your “We Want Some Nasty” shirt, faded and worn from countless gamedays and beer spills, because you are just so disappointed in how stupid this team could be.
These are valid emotions. They come with being a true fan. (And if these emotions sound terrible, you can always leave the game early. I hear nobody ever regrets that.) But this legacy question isn’t one we should take as seriously as we do. It’s a ridiculous amount of pressure we put on people we cheer for, and then we toss them aside when they fail. Tim Duncan would much rather his legacy be as a great dad who cherished his kids than simply as the greatest Power Forward of all time. (To be fair, his will be both, but stick with me.) Some of the greatest sports legacies were made by terrible people from whom we demanded a “killer instinct.” These legacies we have come to lust after are usually built on ego and selfishness and, sometimes, even hatred. Why would we want that from somebody? Worse, why would we want that for somebody? Michael Jordan’s legacy is one that will never be touched, and he’s a total jerk. It’s sad. Sadder still to think that we had a hand in that.
Like me, my grandma would record the games. She’d do this to avoid picking up smoking again. When the games got tight, when the nerves started to jump, my grandma would grab a cigarette to calm herself down. But when she quit smoking, she started recording the games. If a game got close, she’d simply step outside to calm down, knowing the VHS was rolling. She’d watch the game later without letting it get her so emotional.
My grandma’s love for the Spurs is something my family has always cherished. It’s a part of us because it was a part of her. (Agonizingly, my cousin tweeted “This one’s for granny” seconds before the Spurs gave away Game 6. Brutal.) But I learned so much more from watching my grandma when she’d walk away from the TV than I did when I sat by her and we watched the game together. She cared most of all about her life around the people she loved. If that meant getting up from a good game to keep setting a good example for the kids, then so be it.
When you sit down to watch the game tonight, whether by yourself or with friends or family, you’re going to hear a discussion about the legacy question. Ignore it. Enjoy the game because it’s exciting and emotional. Relish the opportunity to cheer for your team, one of the last left standing in a competitive league. Soak up the moment, as you realize that few fanbases get this opportunity. Let the chills cover you when the shots go down. Be heartbroken if your team loses. Run outside, get in your car, and start honking your horn down the street if they win it all. But forget about the legacy question that is being forced on these players. They’re going to have lives away from this game. You are, too. Give them the dignity of defining a legacy the same way we all do: in peace, near the ones we love, putting something in a family photo that will be worth remembering later.