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Saturday, June 14, 2014
Spurs break loose with title party

By Royce Young
ESPN.com

SAN ANTONIO -- Kawhi Leonard stood off to the side of the stage, wiggling his hat over his trademark braids. Commissioner Adam Silver held the microphone, ready to announce the Finals MVP. He looked over at Leonard, who stood stoicly, expressionless.

"Kawhi Leonard," Silver said.

Leonard clapped his giant hands together and walked over to claim his trophy. His teammates mugged him, dislodging that previously perfectly placed hat. Leonard tried to fight them off, tried to straighten that hat back up. But he finally just gave in.

He leaned his head back, balled up his fists and howled toward the rafters.

"LET'S GOOOOOOOO!!!"

It was a primal scream, one that Leonard had been saving for the past three years. That quiet demeanor, that reserved personality, that laid-back attitude, Leonard finally cut it loose.

Leonard is a product of his environment, fitting right in with the notoriously boring San Antonio Spurs. They're professionals in the purest sense, pursuing basketball as a vocation and approaching it as precisely that -- a job.

Take how the Spurs finished Game 5, for example. With 2:12 left, holding an 18-point lead, they were huddled around coach Gregg Popovich, clipboard in hand. Leonard walked over to talk to official Scott Foster about an earlier call he didn't like. The time to celebrate was coming, but not yet. Not until the job was done.

But even as buttoned-up and mundane as the Spurs are, they know how to party. Because, you know, they've got some experience with it. The pungent combination of Dom Perignon and cigar smoke hit you within 20 yards of the team's locker room. Inside, it looked like Game 1's aftermath all over again, except this time instead of dripping with sweat, players were drenched in beer and champagne. They danced, they chanted, they gave incoherent interviews.

Cory Joseph did one where a guy was basically just prompting him what to say and he was yelling it back at him.

Matt Bonner at one point said, "It's wicked awesome!" in an accent that betrayed his New Hampshire roots.

With his country's flag wrapped around his shoulders, Aron Baynes bellowed out, "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm just Australian!" as he dumped champagne on his own face.

Danny Green did his interview with his arm around his dad, Danny Green Sr., which was pretty appropriate on Father's Day.

Tony Parker grabbed at the NBA championship trophy, giving it a kiss, something he has hoisted three times already.

Patty Mills danced and danced and danced.

Tiago Splitter was there, accommodating any interview at any moment as he also accepted any liquid passed his way at any moment. And as the locker room party started to settle, David Robinson peeked his head in to give out a handful of approving nods to the players still inside.

The boring rap is cultural for the Spurs. Their identity is team, to separate the individual from basketball and cohere as a five-man unit on the floor. The basketball has always done their talking and as they surgically carved the Heat over five games, there was never anything boring about it. They party like they play -- together. It's more fun that way.

"There were some possessions that I was some possessions on the court and seeing what was going on, some others on the bench, and I felt so proud," Manu Ginobili said. "Sometimes I felt like saying, 'Wow, this is sweet.' It was really fun to play like this. It was really fun to watch when I was on the bench. I think we played a really high level. We shared the ball maybe as never before. Seeing how involved and how important everybody that was part of that team felt made it even more special."

On Sunday, the Spurs were anything but humdrum, except for when those darn microphones found their way back in front of them. Leonard, who has been the podium white whale, somehow avoiding the postgame spotlight at all costs, was forced to the interview room as Finals MVP. And he didn't disappoint, answering every question in the same low, monotone voice. Here's how he described that moment when he roared on stage after winning Finals MVP:

"At the moment, I was just happy," he said. "Just had faith throughout the whole game, but I didn't think at all I was about to win the MVP of the Finals."

Tim Duncan brought his two children to the podium with him. He said this was the sweetest of his five championships, largely in part because his kids can share it with him. But as Duncan took questions, his son squirmed in his lap, clearly bored at the podium. Like father like son, I suppose. The last question was directed toward his kids about what they thought of their dad's performance. It took some prodding, but finally his son said, "I like his hat."

That's the Spurs, summarized appropriately. Zipping passes all over the place with impeccable precision. And one constant drone of dodged questions and cliched answers off it. The basketball though easy on the eye, the kind that makes you say, "Why doesn't everyone play like that?" It doesn't carry the glitz and glamor of starpower isolation with dominant individual performances. It's just simple execution, and ain't boring.

"They played the best basketball I've ever seen," Chris Bosh said.

As the Spurs piled onto that stage with confetti raining down, the emotion ran raw. Duncan let some tears slip out. Parker hugged every person he saw. Leonard smiled once or twice. This was the Spurs' moment, a time to appreciate basketball purity that we just don't get anymore.

But maybe nothing was more perfect about the Spurs' celebration, than Popovich, with his shirt unbuttoned and tie draped around his neck, standing on the very back of the stage as owner Peter Holt hoisted the trophy. Popovich huddled by himself near the rail with a sly grin across his face. A couple players came over to find him, saying a few words, sharing a hug, then rejoining the coronation. And then Pop would lean back on the rail with his arms folded, and go back to smiling. It wasn't that he wanted out of the spotlight. It was just wanted it to be on everyone standing in front of him.