By Benre J. Zenarosa |
Congratulations! How does it feel to be up there, at the top of the basketball world? How’s the celebration of your victory? How’s Las Vegas?
I know it wasn’t an easy climb. Maelstroms of despair and disappointment came your way which I’ll never decipher in its entirety no matter what I do. You had been beaten down multiple times by the Cleveland Cavaliers sparked by the NBA superstar LeBron James in the past. You fully understand what defeat tastes like, or the impact of being swept in a series felt like. But you told the world that it’s not going to happen this year. You proved yourself. You are champions now.
The way I see it, and I sense that I’m not alone on this one, your General Manager and President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri did the trick. Please give him your utmost appreciation. Do everything to keep him in your core. If not for his courage, determination, and disagreeableness, you are not where you are today.
Indubitably, the trade involving DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio Spurs looked terrible at first glance. Different media personalities denigrated him as if it’s the filthiest and most foolish move a sports executive could ever commit. Ujiri has been bombarded with cuss and curse from all over. The argument was that while Kawhi was one of the best players in the world, it didn’t make sense to trust him, who’s played only 9 regular season games with the Spurs the previous year. There’s a saga of banters with the Spurs allegedly leaking information about his injury. And so, trust between the two parties has been damaged.
Truth be told, I almost joined the train of fans in their route to believe the issues concerning Leonard without listening to his side of the story. I was impatient. I was about to treat his stoicism and silence as signs of weakness and subtle approval of the rubbish thrown at his direction. I was wrong.
Kawhi, who’s dubbed as ‘The Klaw’, shocked the world when he led you in notching your first ever NBA championship. A former Finals MVP and defense whizz, he roared along with the Jurassic Park and Scotiabank Arena enthusiasts from day one. He carried himself to a high standard. His businesslike demeanor and professionalism brought you to a level of excellence you’ve never been in before. No trash talks. No unnecessary complaints to the calls made by the referees. No premature celebrations. No brouhaha and bravado during media interviews. No stupid flops. No unsportsmanlike conduct and flagrant fouls against the opponents. His respect to the game and everything that comes with it was more evident during the playoffs. He’s a fun guy, yes, a humble one. You willingly followed his suit.
You waited for this moment for 24 years. It must feel surreal for you. But no, it wasn’t just Kawhi who showed up. I’ll remember your championship run as a team success. In Kawhi’s words during the last postgame interview about the Finals MVP award he had received, he said: “I ended up with the trophy, but everybody deserves it.”
I will not forget how Fred VanVleet exhibited confidence during the critical moments in the Finals. His three-point shots were pieces of art that manifested themselves as daggers to the hopes of the Golden State Warriors. He was undrafted.
I will not forget Cameroonian Pascal Siakam’s strong drives to the hoop and long-range shots. His length became a powerful weapon to penetrate the defense of the rival. He’s a frontrunner to the Most Improved Player Award for a reason.
I will not forget Congolese-Spanish Serge Ibaka’s dunks and jump shots and rebounds that shuttered the criticisms of all the doubters. He’s also a sleek free throw shooter for a big man.
I will not forget Danny Green’s pull up three pointers and veteran leadership. He treated his off nights as part of the game, and he never deserted his eyes to the ultimate goal. He stayed locked in.
I will not forget Spanish Marc Gasol’s unsurmountable presence inside and outside the arc. His experience contributed for the other players to stay calm and poised during the process.
I will not forget coach Nick Nurse and his fondness on making required adjustments for you to succeed. Many people criticized his decisions, but he stuck with them.
I will not forget the bench players who accepted their roles and carried you throughout the season.
I will not forget Kyle Lowry’s heart and passion and sacrifices for you. He stepped back to make Kawhi the man. He’s all about winning and his positive attitude and commitment resonated to every corner of your being.
And I will forever remember you as winners. You’ll be a constant reminder to the world that underdogs always have a fighting chance; that dreams can become part of the reality only if we’re true to ourselves; that beautiful things come to those who patiently wait.
The world will be watching your parade. Count me in, champions!
Benre J. Zenarosa writes essays and letters. His works have appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Rappler, Thought Catalog, Boxing Insider, Read Boxing, and others. He is from Makati, Philippines.