At the beginning of the summer the San Antonio Spurs beat LeBron James and the Miami Heat to win the 2014 NBA championship. At summer’s end we caught up with the Spurs’ one and only Matt Bonner over email to review everything from the championship run, sandwich analytics, and the Bonner Challenge.
1. First of all, congrats on winning your second NBA title. You guys obviously had a terrific run, but are there any moments that stick out for you?
Honestly, I would have to say Vince Carter’s buzzer-beating 3-point game winner in Game 3 of our opening series against the Mavericks. That gave them a 2-1 series lead with Game 4 in Dallas. Having to rebound from such a tough road loss and being on the ropes tested our character, and overcoming the adversity of that situation was a huge wake-up call moving forward through the rest of the playoffs.
2. I think I’ll always point to Game 6 in OKC, when you guys closed out the Thunder on the road without Tony Parker. What do you remember most about that game?
As a fan of basketball, that was simply a great game. So many different people made so many huge plays on both teams, and we hadn’t won there in I don’t know how many years. But the play that sticks out in my mind most was Timmy’s [Duncan] spin move into a fadeaway jumper with two seconds left on the shot clock and 20 seconds left in OT to put us up three points.
We were running on fumes and I had this gut feeling that if we didn’t get a bucket on that possession, we were going to be in trouble. Timmy had a defender in front of him and behind him yet still found a way to turn a dead possession into a huge bucket. Just look at our bench’s reaction. Pure poetry.
3. You ended up starting two games in that pivotal series; what was your reaction to finding out you were going to start in the conference finals?
My reaction was similar to Ollie McLellan’s when Coach Dale subbed him in for Rade Butcher in the movie Hoosiers.
In other words, I think Coach Pop had to tell me twice before I realized he was serious. I had been more or less out of the rotation up until that point in the playoffs, so I was definitely caught off-guard. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t ready though. I knew my job was to go out and hustle, play solid defense, and pull Serge Ibaka out of the paint on offense. So that’s what I did.
4. Not only did you guys go on to win the Finals, you also got to take the trophy on a tour of your hometowns, which produced some fantastic images of the Larry O’Brien Trophy in random spots all over the world. What was it like cruising around Concord, New Hampshire, with the most sacred trophy in the game?
We were excited to see how unsuspecting people would react when we’d bust the trophy out at random locations in Concord. Most people just assumed it was a replica on first sight. Once we explained it was the actual trophy, it was pretty cool to see what people would do. Some would be scared to even touch it. Others would grab it without hesitation and hoist it over their head. Overall, it was a surreal experience. And the trophy had to result in some sort of state record for most selfies taken within a 48-hour period.
5. You also probably won the best T-shirt of the summer award. Can you tell the people about the “We Came, We Saw, We Concord” shirt, who made it, and whose idea it was? Where can I get one?
I first remember seeing that T-shirt on random Concord folk growing up there in the ’80s. It instantly became one of my favorite hometown-centric T-shirts. After the ’80s, it fell out of favor with the fashion world, and I never saw it around town again. Until … I had one printed in 2007 at a local T-shirt shop called Teddy’s Tees. That’s right, it was a custom job. So if you’re looking for one to call your own, you’ll have to grab a blank tee and some felt letters and get it done yourself. I bet Julius Caesar never thought his famous words would make it this far in the form of a pun.
6. I have been obsessed with the Bonner Challenge since I learned about it. Can you describe its origins?
The Bonner Challenge started when I was in high school at the Concord YMCA. I used to go there every day after school and work out to wicked awesome ’90s hip-hop mixtapes (Outkast, BTNH, Tribe, Wu Tang, etc). I just randomly started doing it and the game caught on with the other YMCA ballers (all of whom had great nicknames). They dubbed it “The Matt Bonner Challenge.” Spurs assistant coach Chip Engelland jokes that I named it after myself, but I can assure you that is not the case. Just ask Spanky, Big Duff, Locks, Smiles, Jonasty, the Pirate, or Hollywood.
7. It seems the Bonner Challenge has taken on a life of its own in the Spurs organization and now has its own championship belt; which guys have had the longest title runs?
The Bonner Challenge is strangely addictive and it has evolved here with the Spurs. You get one chance to complete it, and it must be your very first shots of the day. If you take any [other] shots, then you are ruled “Bonner Ineligible.” As far as the championship belt, it works on two levels. First, whoever has completed the challenge most recently gets the honor of holding the belt until someone else beats it. Second, we keep a running total of who has completed the challenge the most times. The player or coach (yes, even some of the coaches participate) who has the most accumulative wins gets to keep the belt at the end of the year. There have been three “eras” of the Bonner Challenge. Nando De Colo has the belt from the first era, Coach Engelland holds the belt from the second era, and I have the belt from the third era. There has been talk of expanding to other teams and creating an NBA-wide Bonner Challenge league. Maybe it could make for a nice addition to the All-Star Weekend festivities?
8. Has Tim Duncan ever tried?
Tim Duncan doesn’t try the Bonner Challenge. Tim Duncan decides when he wants to beat it and then does so blindfolded, left-handed, and with hundreds of rattlesnakes at his feet immediately after completing an Iron Man.
9. What kind of music have you been listening to this summer?
I have two young children at home so aside from Raffi, Rosenshontz, and the Beatles (I believe all young children like the Beatles), two newish albums I listened to a ton over the summer were the War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream and Strand of Oaks’ HEAL.
10. Speaking of tunes, your charity, the Rock On Foundation, is only in its second year but is showing signs of becoming a unique blend of sports and music. What are your goals with Rock On?
We have lofty goals for Rock On. We’re seeing lots of art and athletic programs being cut from schools, so more and more families are relying on nonprofits to step up to the plate to provide these sorts of programs. We’ve discovered that the art and athletic cultures are actually very analogous in many ways, and they’re significant areas of interest for me. So, my brother and I are dedicating our charitable efforts to this organization that ideally will continue to live on long after we’re gone. We’re going to be launching some wicked exciting grant programs and contests in the next couple of months, with an initial focus on the communities of New Hampshire and San Antonio. But our goal is to develop Rock On into a cutting-edge nonprofit that eventually has a major national impact.
We’re in a unique position to operate exciting and inspiring events and produce cobranded goods with other companies to generate funds for the initiatives. We’re also hoping to unify some of my fellow Granite Staters who have led successful careers in creative- or athletic-related fields. It would be amazing to be able to bring together people like Adam Sandler, Chip Kelly, Seth Meyers, Sarah Silverman, Brian Wilson, Will Sheff, Ben Cherington, Triple H, Bode Miller, Jodi Picoult, Dan Brown, Charlie Davies, etc., to help inspire future generations of creatives and athletes.
11. Are there any musical artists that you really want to work with?
First of all, the artists we have already worked with have been great. They’ve all been very supportive and become friends. Folks like Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Okkervil River, Mobb Deep, the So So Glos, Win Butler, Chris Tomson, Dallas Green, STRNGRS, Deer Tick, the Walkmen, Bun B, the Whigs, Strand of Oaks, Kevin Devine, and even comedian Hari Kondabolu. But if I had a magic genie who gave me three wishes, I’d go with Bruce Springsteen, Kendrick Lamar, and Elbow.
12. My friend Zach Lowe wanted me to ask you about the whereabouts of Coach B; like the Man in the Mountain, he seems to have vanished. Whatever happened to that guy?
First of all, it’s the Old Man of the Mountain. As for Coach B, it’s been years since anyone has seen him. However, it’s rumored that he started helping out with the Serbian national team right after group play and stopped right before the gold-medal game.
13. You recently signed a new one-year deal with San Antonio. What are you most looking forward to in the upcoming season?
I’m excited for many things … But delicious free food on the plane aside, I’d say I’m most excited that we have pretty much the same team back. It’s such a great group of guys. We all get along really well on and off the court, so it makes the season fun. That’s important when you spend so much time together.
14. You’re kind of the John Hollinger of sandwiches; let’s talk sandwich analytics — what do you think are the emerging trends in quantifying and/or characterizing the performances of sammies?
I’m glad you brought up analytics. Charts, graphs, and numbers don’t lie. Even though 28 percent of them are made up. Here is a very rudimentary formula I came up with for rating a sandwich:
Score on a scale of 1-100:
A = bread
B = meat
C = fixings
D = sauces
.4(A) + .3(B) + .2(C) + .1(D) = overall score on a 0-100 scale
Each ingredient is weighted based on its level of importance to a good sandwich. Please note that the coefficients can certainly change when dealing with specialty sandwiches (for example, a steak and cheese would have a higher value placed on meat).
15. As a follow-up to that, you have spent almost a decade in San Antonio now, which is obviously a terrific food town. What makes a good taco? Where do you find the best tacos and enchilada plates down there?
That’s like asking where the best poutine is in Montreal, where the best live music venue is in Austin, or where the best maple syrup is in New Hampshire. In other words, it’s almost impossible because there are so many great places. As much as I love tacos, I am hardly an expert. However, I drove past this place called Taco Taco Café that had a huge sign saying it had the best tacos in America according to the Food Network. I’ve never eaten there but maybe that place is the best?
This interview has been edited and condensed.