If you’re not like me, and haven’t watched literally every minute of the NBA playoffs — down to the last “Men at Work” promo — then perhaps you haven’t seen the latest installment of the league-endorsed “Big” campaign featuring the San Antonio Spurs. @@http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9H-RadRkKE@@ @@http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STRrF3UZFsw@@
At a surface level, it’s nothing usual for the NBA’s personal ensemble of Don Drapers. As slow-motion footage of the Spurs’ motion offense plays, overset by the campaign’s signature “big” white letters, we watch as point guard Tony Parker squeezes a pass just beyond the outstretched alien arms of Rajon Rondo and into the hands of shooting guard Manu Ginobili. As defenders converge in Ginobili — who’s stationed in the right corner of the court — he quickly swings a no-look pass to Tim Duncan, who pumps fakes at roughly the speed of a dying turtle and then rises up to nail a mid-range jumper. Nothing unusual, and really a pretty boring sequence to feature in a playoff commercial.
Except, of course, for the background music, which is none other than the classic “Shook Ones Pt. II” by Queensbridge rap duo Mobb Deep.
The first thing this does is conjure a slew of hilarious images: Gregg Popovich listening to Mobb Deep, Tim Duncan listening to Mobb Deep, Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan listening to Mobb Deep together at the same time, Tony Parker’s ill-fated rap career, Boris Diaw eating pastries (OK, that has nothing to do with Mobb Deep, but it’s still hilarious). @@http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzQ9lszhP10@@ @@http://igohardnow.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/136715261_crop_650x440.jpg@@
Basically, everything the Spurs have ever done goes against the idea of pairing them with one of the hardest rap songs in history — a beat that somehow manages to out-menace lyrics like, “you all alone in these streets, cousin/every man for theirself in this land we be gunnin’/and keep them shook crews runnin’.” For going on fourteen years now, the Spurs’ methodical pace, suffocating defense and even their black-and-silver color scheme may as well have been paired with Coldplay music, based on their uncanny ability to induce sleep on viewers. It was dominance (four championships and 15-straight playoff appearances) in its most boring form. @@http://sports.yahoo.com/nba/news?slug=sanantoniopost@@
You see, this rebranding of the Spurs isn’t just some desperate marketing ploy by the NBA in response to the increasing odds that San Antonio won’t lose throughout the entirety of the playoffs (although I do suspect that the NBA’s Don Drapers hoped the Knicks wouldn’t completely flame out, so that they could save Mobb Deep for an actual New York team). The funny thing, as only the most astute NBA fans would know, is that the 2012 iteration of the Spurs — the boring, plodding Spurs — might actually be a perfect candidate to be paired with hardcore hip-hop.
For one thing, they’re neither “boring” nor “plodding” anymore. Okay, Tim Duncan remains expressionless in his destruction of opposing power forwards everywhere, but the fact that this team employs Stephen Jackson eliminates “boring” from the conversation. Plus, there’s plenty of young blood in guys like Kawhi Leonard, Daniel Green and Gary Neal. Parker’s subtle brilliance remains as prevalent as ever (even if I’ll never forgive him for cheating on Eva Longoria) and, at long last, I’ve finally come to appreciate the singular creativity of Ginobili’s game. @@http://www.nba.com/media/act_tim_duncan.jpg@@ @@http://athletetattoodatabase.com/img/wiki_up/sjackson2.jpg@@
But at the center of everything is Popovich, who has completely revamped the team’s identity from “defensive juggernaut” to “high-octane offensive machine” that rivals even the Steve Nash-Mike D’Antoni Suns teams of yore. To watch the Spurs seamlessly work the ball around the court, scoring by way of anything from a trademark Duncan banker to an open corner three by Green, is akin to viewing basketball in its purest form. It’s been said before, but I’ll repeat it anyway: if you don’t enjoy the Spurs on some level, you don’t really love basketball. Pure and simple.
Between the action on the court and the cinematography off of it, the Spurs have somehow been reborn as one of the coolest teams in the NBA. Even their uniforms — once the epitome of blase — have become weirdly appealing in their own unassuming way.
That Mobb Deep peaked in popularity during the mid-’90s is perfect, really, since the Spurs’ reign began in 1997 when Duncan was drafted. I was five when “Shook Ones” was released, but it remains just as arresting, if not more so, within today’s musical spectrum. Amidst the emo-rap that Drake hath wrought, it’s refreshing at times to take a trip down a more intense memory lane. @@http://espn.go.com/nba/player/_/id/215/tim-duncan@@
It’s the same with the Spurs — like finding an enhanced kinship with someone you’ve known for years. That it took a 30-second television spot to discover this might be sad, but it does nothing to change the takeaway.