Basketball players are the pinnacle of evolution. In more primitive times, these men would have been slaying beasts and saving maidens. Had Lebron lived in ancient Sumeria, the legend of King James would have been found alongside Gilgamesh.
Nowadays, these legendarily proportioned men exert their energy playing basketball, where the physically gifted are perfectly suited to put a ball through a hoop ten feet in the air. They can drive through or elevate over their opponent to score at will. For the most talented players, teamwork, though important, can be seen as optional, especially when their astounding individual performance reaps not only victories, but also awards, money, and fans.
Soccer players are different. Star players look like guys who didn’t get picked to play on the basketball team. If they weren’t in impeccable shape, elaborately tattooed, and preposterously coiffed, they would not turn a head. Messi, stands 5’6″ and weighs less than 150 pounds. Cristiano would be small for point guard. Ibrahimovic and Kobe are the same size.
But, soccer stars don’t need to win the genetic lottery, because no matter how dominant an athlete may be, it is near impossible to score a goal alone. First off, the rules forbid using HANDS, the appendage crafted over billions of years of evolution for the specific purpose of catching, holding, and throwing. Without HANDS, dodging ten defenders and shooting past a goalie is a ludicrous venture.
In soccer, selfishness is the seed of failure. Players can not seek to excel on their own. They must be a cog in the machine. Opponents cannot be plowed through by a single player, they must be dissected by a team. Passing is paramount. Often the most important play is not the goal, but the superb through ball that unzips the defense.
Soccer requires the best elements of human nature: selflessness, creativity, and passion. On the greatest plays, averaged-sized humans transcend their individual shortcomings as part of a team and create the spectacular. Viewing this collaboration is beautiful. Being a part of it, is addicting.
Whereas Americans adorn their childhood walls with NBA players posterizing opponents, international youth idolize the great sides posing in team photos with arms draped around one another. They start playing soccer when they learn to stand and are bottle-fed the heroin of harmony. For most, soccer satiates their cravings, but those who seek bliss with more zip turn to basketball for their fix.
In the NBA, most teams look for the next Herculean superstar, but San Antonio seeks foreign-born harmony addicts. Of the nine most used Spurs players, seven were born outside the United States. A Spur seeks the joy of cooperation over the glorification of self. A Spur passes up good shots for great shots. A Spur is a teammate.
They play basketball like soccer. Their elaborate whirring offense rivals Barcelona working the tiki-taka. Every player touches the ball, moving towards an increasingly deadly position until the made basket is a formality.
In five seconds, a balding Argentinian, a wee Australian, a middle-aged Virgin Islander and a pudgy Frenchman eviscerated the most athletic defense in the league.
On paper, the Spurs have no business contending for a title. They’re big, slow, and old in a league getting smaller, faster, and younger. But, the Spurs excel in transcending their modest physical gifts into spectacular team performance.
In the words of my Kindergarten teacher during clean-up time, “Many hands, make little work” and the many hands of the Spurs made little work of the entire league this season.
In the seventeenth year of the Duncan-Popovich Dynasty, after an unfathomably devastating Finals defeat, the Spurs unleashed a scorched earth policy and played the most perfect basketball of this generation.
The World Cup started last week, but we’ve been watching the beautiful game all year.