By Rodhig / @rodhig7
For a while now, I have a feeling that the final stretch in the career of Vassilis Spanoulis is not going to be pretty. The storybook ending he or his fans might envision could very easily be derailed by nagging injuries, certain aspects of his game that don’t age well and a reluctance to take a backseat to anyone. But as I watch him announce his national team retirement live on TV, I also had a question: does it really matter?
Professional sports are dominated by narratives. Fans look for validation or rationalization in them. Sportswriters make a living through them. And truly great players like Spanoulis believe, or even know that they can shape them. Εven in the analytics era we all get caught up in career arcs, judgement of character (I mean, do we really know that much about Rudy?) and oversimplified comparisons, usually without context. These vices are mostly trivial and don’t really hurt the game; basketball will always rise above the noise, so if someone puts opinion over sport, let them knock themselves out. Things get complicated, however, if fans start to dig deeper. After all, if you spend hours watching ten dudes try to put a ball through a hoop, you better have something to show for it.
Spanoulis is both a driving force behind and a victim of this narrative-centric approach. His move from Panathinaikos to Olympiacos has often been described as an attempt to re-write his own history by becoming the undisputed top dog after having to share the limelight with Dimitris Diamantidis - the fact that he moved to a team already featuring Milos Teodosic and Theo Papaloukas was somehow overlooked. His failures are treated by some as a manifestation of a hero syndrome and a limited understanding of the game (turnover machine!). His triumphs are seen as evidence of heart and desire. The Man is overshadowed by the Archetype.
It is tempting to go down that road when describing Spanoulis’ last tournament with -the Greek National Team. He wanted to write the final chapter on his own and failed, after a few tough, potentially heroic shots missed. He over-dribbled, looked around for killer assists, poked the Spanish defense and came up empty because that’s who he is. His knees, the spacing around him and the effort or class of his opponents hardly matter in this story. El puto amo went down with all guns blazing. Some love him for it, others hate him.
After the game, though, the Man resurfaced. An ageing basketball prodigy stood in front of the cameras and, fighting back tears, thanked his teammates, made sure to point out that he has no hard feelings about anything, remembered his losses as fondly as his wins and said goodbye to his national team. In about a month or so he will be back for more in a different jersey. Because this is what he wants. What more do you need to know, really?