Many NBA stars are built like NFL players. That is, except for the San Antonio Spurs.
Kawhi Leonard actually has some pretty beefy muscles. But he’s the “biggest” on the team, by far; his built-up muscles are atypical for San Antonio.
Compare a few famous physiques:
SF Lebron James — 6-8 / 260 lbs. DE J.J. Watt — 6-6 / 240 lbs.
SF Larry Johnson — 6-7 / 250 LB Lawrence Taylor — 6-6 / 250
SG Derek Fisher — 6-1 / 210 RB Reggie Bush — 6-0 / 203 lbs.
Think about those numbers. Compare Michael Jordan’s height / weight:
SG Michael Jordan: 6-6 / 216 lbs.
SG Dwyane Wade: 6-2 / 220 lbs.
And Jordan was big for the league of his day. When he first entered the league, MJ weighed only 200 pounds. He bulked up after the Pistons manhandled him in both the 1989 and 1990 Eastern Conference Finals using their new defensive strategy, the “Jordan Rules.” Jordan himself attributes his 1991 success in defeating the Jordan Rules to his increased power and bulk from off-season strength training. (See ESPN Films, 30 for 30 Bad Boys.)
This seems to mark the beginning of the arms race in ever more massive NBA bodies. The trend’s logical conclusion? Shaquille O’Neal, heaviest (and, some would argue, most overrated) NBA star of all-time. Shaq scored a lot, passed the ball little. If you’re seven feet tall, have explosive strength, and you weigh 100+ pounds more than the individual guarding you, why wouldn’t you?
Too many NBA teams today feature an incredibly powerful superstar, give him the ball, and have him fly at the rim, scattering smaller defenders like bowling pins. It makes for some eye-popping individual player highlights. But I prefer team ball.
Ball movement is NBA conventional wisdom. But it’s also something of a lost art. The TV-announcer euphemism for high-time-of-possession individuals is the “go-to” player; NBA coaches use the term “ball stopper.” That term indicates the stoppage of ball movement on offense, not on defense. While there’s nothing about built-up muscles that prevents a player from passing the ball, if you were bigger, stronger, and faster than nine of ten players on the floor, it would seem a rational choice to keep the ball and score 35 points.
It’s a legitimate choice, I suppose. But is it merely a distraction from the true team-nature of basketball? Is it just a coincidence that Coach Popovich has put together his team without any players that could pass for an NFL linebacker?
Some of the league’s current young guns:
Corey Magette — 6-5 / 225
This is a shoe the Spurs just don’t fit.
Am I right? I mean, think about this collection of guys.
Tony Parker — 6-1 / 180 lbs.
Manu Ginobli — 6-6 / 200 lbs.
Danny Green — 6-6 / 205
Kawhi Leonard — 6-7 / 225
Matt Bonner — 6-10 / 235
Tim Duncan — 7-0 / 250
Of their amazing 2014 Finals dominance, Manu Ginobili commented on how “differently” the Spurs play. In the Bleacher Report piece “Passing stats Illustrate Spurs Dominance in Finals,” Ginobili says “if you don’t have as much talent, you still can do it. You can move the ball and put a lot of pressure on the defense.” He may as well have said “if you don’t have as much muscle . . .”
Judging from their bodies, as a team, the Spurs don’t just play different. They are different.