Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Resilience: Embracing the Past, Anticipating the Future, Enjoying the Moment

After watching the first playoff game of the NBA Western Conference semifinals between the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors, I began thinking of the significance of this series.  It was an extremely exciting game that included a career-defining performance by the Warriors' Steph Curry, a characteristically masterful and successful comeback by the San Antonio Spurs, and game-winning shot by Manu Ginobili.  The Spurs relied on their championship pedigree to maintain home-court advantage if only for the moment.  Some have said that it has been the game of this years' playoffs.    

However, what was more striking were the many similarities and only subtle contrast in playing styles of the two teams and individual stars, the personalities and philosophies of the teams and organizations. This comparison has led me to share with you an interesting snapshot of the NBA at this moment in time and, perhaps, what has contributed to my appreciation of the sport.  

The San Antonio Spurs continue to remain at the top of NBA franchises in winning tradition, success, results, and longevity.  During their long-time competitiveness, they have evolved from a tough-nosed defensive-minded team to a more well-rounded team with a more balanced approach. This approach has incorporated a speedier, smaller, more European style of play that not only incorporated that style but intelligently scouted and drafted European players to execute for them. As other franchises experience ups-and-down over the years, the Spurs consistently compete, excel and win as the times change.

By contrast, without the same tradition of winning as the Spurs, the Golden State Warriors have been become a media and fan darling this season as Steph Curry has emerged as a fearless shooter who has unlimited range and uncanny accuracy, releasing quick jump shots from distances that past players have only tried in desperate, buzzer-beating situations.

The Warriors play an up-tempo, quick-passing, quick-shooting style also mimicking the Europeans.  Unlike the Spurs mix of veterans and young players, most of the regulars on the Warriors team are quite young and inexperienced.  The Bay area fans of the Warriors seem more like a crowd one might see at a international soccer match, loud and on the verge of coming unglued after every Warrior basket or opponent mistake.  Though the Spurs fans have always been loud and enthusiastic, the Warriors fans have taken it to another level.  

What I see is the evolution of the NBA in microcosm.  Though the Spurs may or may not win this series, I can see the future of the NBA in the Warriors.  The Warriors, perhaps by design, have taken the Spurs approach one step farther than the Spurs.  While not quite equaling the discipline, structure, flow and consistency of the Spurs, the Warriors have begun to use more of the court and increase the overall range that the offense can comfortably utilize use to run, pass and shoot.  The youth, athleticism, and vision of the Warriors, modeled and led by Curry, allows for that increase. It appears more haphazard, spontaneous and chaotic than the Spurs, but that is what evolution looks like, at first.    

This process of evolution has also increased the possibilities, potential and long-range resilience of the teams in the NBA. The downside is that is has also increased the risk as more individuals playing in this environment are being felled by crippling injuries.  This is also a part of the evolution of the sport and the league.

This series could be a long, highly entertaining, competitive, contested, back-and-forth affair, with highs and lows for both teams.  The winner will be the team that can be more resilient.  The winner will be the team that can:

1.  Embrace the past and understand where they and other teams have learned from champions and where they have come from.
2.  Display flexibility and be able to adapt to what their opponents are doing, the fans are reacting to, fatigue, injury, etc.
3.  Anticipate the future and be at least a step or two ahead of their opponent.
4.  Enjoy the moment by effectively dealing with the pressure and stress of the demands and expectations of a championship playoff series.

Prediction:  Spurs in 7 games.

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