The Spurs are so many things. The Spurs are a collection of fatherly archetypes assembled to dispense the True Dad Justice. The Spurs are an army of flash-frozen, zero-pigment zombies that take forever to do anything on an NBA-themed re-imagining of Game of Thrones. The Spurs are the sports equivalent of a Steely Dan-inspired mid-life crisis. The Spurs are Ivan Drago blithely pummeling Rocky (as Lil B looks on) in one of the week's weirder GIFs. The Spurs haven't yet been a performance art piece on Yacubian cave trickery -- but there's still time.
The point is that the Spurs' story of greatness is so unfamiliar and unrelatable that it can only be expressed using advanced (and often bizarre) metaphors. An unbroken 17-year run of splicing and permuting your way to four NBA championships is not how greatness is supposed to work. In basketball, at least, 17 years' time will usually grind greatness down to nostalgia. But the Spurs endure despite the narrative inherent to greatness.
For as long as sports have existed, they've been intertwined with the hero's journey. The anti-heroes of Greek mythology are best known for their acts on the battlefield, but their athletic performances were no less vital to the collective and individual mythologies. While Diomedes surely kicked inordinate ass on the battlefield, the oral tradition also preserved how hard he repped for Argos and the W's he racked up at the funeral games of Patroclus and Achilles. Likewise, great sports teams are remembered for their defining victories and their role as readymade avatars for the cities and people they represent. A downfall -- abrupt or gradual -- is always the natural conclusion.
This is an inescapable fact. Even Diomedes -- who never committed hubris and enjoyed the celestial benefits of Athena's major crush on him -- eventually faded into his own twilight. The monomyth demands it, which explains why the Spurs strike so cleanly at our own understanding of them. The Spurs refuse to give us an ending, even as the end becomes more and more inevitable. A team whose best player was drafted at the start of Bill Clinton's second term has to be on its last legs, probably.
But, relative certainty about erosion over time aside, there is also the no less obvious fact that the NBA playoffs are breaking in the Spurs' favor.
Their first-round series with the Dallas Mavericks went seven games, suggesting that the team's season-long struggle against playoff-bound teams would haunt them. But the Spurs responded to that reasonable assumption by subjecting the Trailblazers to a demoralizing basketball clinic and dominating the first two games of their series with a Thunder squad so overmatched it borders on cruel comedy. While there will always be time to ponder the "what-if" of Serge Ibaka's ill-timed calf injury, there is something -- if not right, at least fittingly poetic -- about a team led by creaky 30-somethings somehow winning an injury lottery rigged against them.
Even the Eastern side of the bracket is quietly going their way, as the Pacers make increasingly clear their intention to make life miserable for the defending champion Heat. Whoever wins will pay a heavier toll in this round than the Spurs, and that out-on-the-margins variable is precisely the sort of micro-advantage that coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs prey on. It's not so much a matter of the Spurs evading their own decay as it is the Spurs recognizing how to match what they have left against any opponent on even terms.
Again, that's not how it's supposed to work. That's not how any of this is supposed to work. There is no other team capable of even beginning to challenge for an NBA title that also lacks a prime superstar or two, but the Spurs have been doing it for years. Therein lies the value of what the Spurs insist on doing.
The most organic narrative structure still imposes structure, and with it, limitations. The Spurs are a reminder that that the way things tend to go is not a necessity. The hero's journey is no less made-up than the idea that we must all fade into something less than our perceived best. That is still no less an imposition -- they are just a basketball team, after all -- but nothing is observed without some degree of imposition. Besides, the Spurs don't seem to care one way or another. They are too busy being so many things to so many people.