“Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers,
And they've been known to pick a song or two
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue
Now how about you?”
-- Sweet Home Alabama
The Rolling Stones wrote Wild Horses in The Shoals. Bob Seger wrote Mainstreet there too. It's where Lynyrd Skynyrd came up with the solo for Freebird.
Duane Allman camped in the parking lot outside FAME Studios until Rick Hall finally let him inside. Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge, Traffic, the Black Keys and Rod Stewart recorded there.
It's not New York. It's not L.A. Muscle Shoals is a small town in rural Alabama with a population under 15,000.
The San Antonio Spurs won the 2014 NBA Title in historic fashion after a historic collapse. They pulled themselves from that mire and avenged their 25-second breakdown with a revolutionary style of ball.
Over the series they had 51 more assists than the Heat and a plus/minus of 70. They shot an astounding 46 percent from three. Their ball movement made Miami tipsy. This was the culmination of 18 seasons of tinkering and growth for Gregg Popovich. His system was so fine-tuned it didn't matter that his three best players were a combined 107 years old.
Yet, as soon as the trophy presentation was over, all anyone talked about was what would happen to the guy who lost.
Over two decades the Spurs built a perennial title contender without making a single major trade. Their biggest swap was someone named George Hill for an unknown No. 15 pick named Kawhi Leonard. The quietest person in the NBA went to the only team that stopped long enough to listen to him.
Popovich took players headed to Europe or a few clicks from ending their careers in Saudi Arabia and gave them new life: Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen, Matt Bonner, Nazr Mohammed, DeJuan Blair, Ike Diogu, Danny Green, Gary Neal and Antonio McDyess.
While Sports Illustrated was pandering to LeBron's media team with a piece of rubbish mistaken for print journalism, the Spurs quietly re-signed Patty Mills and Boris Diaw. You know, two guys who were a few clicks from playing in Saudi Arabia.
Rick Hall built FAME Studios on his scars and heartbreak. He lost his father to a tractor accident and his wife to a car crash. He was dropped by business partners and music execs. Finally, he was dumped by his own Swampers, who decided to go across town and open their own Muscle Shoals.
But the best music comes from pain and loss. Muscle Shoals had character. It's that character that turned it into a musical mecca for Hall and his Swampers.
San Antonio is more than just the Alamo. It has its own character now. It's a basketball city with an NBA history that's richer than the Knicks and equal to the Lakers and Celtics. What the Spurs have done to advance the game should be taught in college classrooms. Coaches and GMs should be falling all over themselves emulate their methods. But they're not. They're busy chasing the flavor of the month.
Hall and the Swampers are old men now. Their studios will eventually close and turn into full-fledged museums. An angry man in a small town in Alabama changed recording history. But history is generally not kind to nonconformists or small towns.
If the Spurs can repeat next season they'll prove once and for all that the team trumps the individual.
Then they'll fade away. And we'll go back to hashing out LeBron.