At the NCAA Regional Finals in Anaheim, the #1 seed Oregon Ducks had just lost to #2 Oklahoma in a game that sent the Sooners to the number one goal every college player dreams of – the Final Four. There’s a brief cooling off period before the media is allowed to interview the players and coaches. Because of other media commitments for the winners, the losing team is required to speak first.
Usually the requests are for three players and the head coach to attend the post game press conference. It’s always difficult watching these pressers because the season comes to such an abrupt end. The NCAA tourney is a sudden death ordeal, unlike the NBA’s best-of-seven playoffs. Therefore, every game is like Game 7 to a college kid – meaning the loser has to face the realization that . . . it’s over.
For seniors not only is the season over, but for the guys who aren’t going to play professionally, their basketball career is over. For many of them, they’ve been playing since they could walk. So that’s a pretty big dose of reality to swallow for a 22-year-old kid. Yet, Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports Network thought it was both appropriate and necessary to ask Oregon’s seniors, 20 minutes after the game – and their dreams – ended, “How much does this loss hurt?”
Dwayne Benjamin was the first to answer. He looked up and said, “I’ve never felt like this before, never been this sad. Not because we lost but because we can never call this team a team again.” And that is why media members feel obligated to ask the probing questions at such difficult times. Naturally, Benjamin had been sadder – certainly when a loved one died but, for raw emotion, Rothstein got the powerful quote he was hoping for.
Flash forward to last night’s Game 6 elimination victory for Oklahoma City over the San Antonio Spurs. Look, we all get it. Tim Duncan turned 40 last week. While he’s been referred to as “the greatest NBA power forward ever,” there is no doubt that he has slowed down. Considerably. In this country one segment of society loves to deify athletes – until they show signs of no longer having the ability to dominate. Then, they will drop that athlete as fast as they’ll replace him with . . . someone who reminds them of him “back when.”
It was just March 23 that an article was written about “Old Man River-walk” entitled, Stats aside, Duncan may be having his best season yet” (Fran Blinebury, NBA.com). Sure, there has been a transition from being the leader scorer to a veteran “player-coach” but, after all, the Spurs did win 67 (out of 82) regular season games and posted a 40-1 home record during that period. Duncan’s stats have dropped significantly to 8.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks (from 19.0 pts, 10.8 reb and 2.2 blocks) but aren’t his current numbers what the Spurs could use from a back up post player? Did he hurt the team that badly during the season? During last night’s telecast, Jeff Van Gundy warned people not to pass judgment on Duncan for his play in the OKC series alone.
Duncan has been taking pay cuts so it’s not like San Antonio would be freeing up a ton of cap space. (In an article on the richest NBA players, he rated ninth with an estimated net worth of $150 million, so he’s as savvy with the financial part of his life as he is with the professional side) and what price can be put on his leadership and the fact that a living legend, a future Hall of Famer is still on the squad, acting as a role model, willing and able to discuss the Spurs’ style and NBA life to the younger guys? The main question for the Spurs is – will whichever player they get in Duncan’s place be an improvement on next year’s roster?
Possibly due to the respect the members of the media have for him – or possibly due to feeling intimidated – the question was of the hem and haw variety: “Have, uh, you taken any time, at all, to think about your future?” Duncan gave the veteran’s reply – which might be why media guys love to ask young kids questions during the tough times:
“I’ll get to that after I get out of here and figure out life. That’s it.”