Tim O’Sullivan: The Spurs boring? Guess you don’t know Matt Bonner
Most NBA fans will be rooting for Oklahoma City tonight in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals. The NBA itself probably hopes the Thunder beats San Antonio. Because if the Spurs win, they’ll take a 3-0 series lead that essentially guarantees them another trip to the NBA Finals. And unless you live in San Antonio – or Concord – chances are you don’t want to see that.
There are actual statistics that tell us people literally don’t want to see it. The three finals with the lowest Nielsen television ratings all involved San Antonio – 2003, 2005 and 2007. Fans don’t tune in because they think the Spurs are boring, but those fans don’t get it.
They want flashy basketball and superstars with big personalities. The Spurs may favor efficient over flashy, but they have a player with personality. A guy who had beef with rappers on video, who went rogue on social media, who blogs about his non-basketball habits, who got a kid suspended from school.
Shoot, this player even has two nicknames – the Red Rocket and
the Red Mamba. That’s right, it’s Concord’s Matt Bonner.
So what if Bonner is averaging only 3.9 minutes and 0.6 points per game in these playoffs? That just means fans have to put in a little extra effort to discover Bonner’s personality. Appreciating his dry sense of humor may also take a little more effort, but that’s okay. It’s what San Antonio is all about.
Like Bonner, the Spurs are nuanced. Basketball purists actually love to watch them play because it’s a symphony of movement, passing and collaborative precision. That’s harder to appreciate than a fast break, alley-oop monster dunk, but the beauty of San Antonio’s game can be found if you take the time to look.
Who cares if San Antonio has been powered by the same three players – Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker – for more than a decade? Does it really matter that the team’s biggest star, Duncan, is known for his fundamentals? Or that the coach, Gregg Popovich, is known for snapping out disgusted, one-word answers during in-game interviews?
Fine, all that does matter to some people. That’s where Bonner comes in.
He got his first nickname, Red Rocket, because he used to ride Toronto’s streetcars, known as “red rockets,” when he played with the Raptors. He’s a man of the people, one of us. What’s not to like there? But if you prefer your NBA players to have a little more high-end cache, you can just call Bonner the Red Mamba, the nickname given to him by Kobe Bryant, a.k.a. the Black Mamba.
Bonner may be low key, but he can steal a spotlight. When San Antonio was in the middle of a 20-game winning streak back in 2012, the hottest news story wasn’t about Parker’s playmaking or Duncan’s longevity. It was about Bonner. More accurately, it was an image of Bonner that got all the attention. An image shaved into the red head of a middle school student, Patrick Gonzalez, who received an in-house suspension for his fanboy haircut.
Unlike many professional athletes, Bonner is willing to give the public a glimpse into his personal life. All you have to do is check out his blog on the San Antonio team website – The Sandwich Hunter, The Quest for the Hoagie Grail. That’s where Bonner divulges his passion for sandwiches and gives the reader an inside look at his favorite sandwich joints across the country.
Maybe you think lunchtime habits are boring. You need an athlete with buzz to keep your attention in this instant gratification world. Bonner has you covered there, too, with some renegade business dealings on Twitter.
The former Concord High star was one of the only NBA players without a shoe deal. He had been wearing New Balance sneakers, but the model he liked went out of production and he was down to his last pair at the beginning of this season. The website Nice Kicks heard about the dilemma, and let Bonner take control of its Twitter handle on Oct. 21, 2013.
The Red Mamba used his new platform to ask (okay, it was more like beg) for a shoe deal. New Balance offered up a new shipment of sneakers, but no sponsorship. Adidas, however, entered the picture and signed Bonner to his first official shoe contract.
If that’s not enough to grab your attention, you’ll have to check out Bonner’s latest bit of hype, an internet video that easily could explode into a web series, “Wrappin’ with the Red Mamba.” It’s a takeoff on Bonner’s love of sandwiches that has him eating wraps with rappers.
The pilot video is filmed at Torchy’s Tacos in Austin, Texas. It opens with Bonner explaining he’s been stood up.
“I’m not going to name names,” Bonner says, but then points to his RiFF RAFF t-shirt, “but this rapper did not show up. That’s not going to discourage us. We’re going to press on, make some phone calls, look around to try to find some other famous rappers who would like to eat with the Red Mamba.”
Bonner asks the Torchy’s patrons, a group that happens to include his San Antonio teammate Patty Mills, if they are famous rappers. They aren’t. But then Bonner gets a phone call from Bushwick Bill, the dwarf rapper shows up at Torchy’s, and tacos get devoured.
The video closes with Bill saying, “That’s a wrap,” and Bonner dead-pan quipping, “With a ‘W,’ get it?”
It’s a perfect ending. After all, the Spurs are all about getting the ‘W,’ and Bonner is all about having a little understated fun in the process. How could you not root for him?
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)