The San Antonio Spurs: Then and Now
I had the distinct pleasure of living in San Antonio, Texas (it could be a displeasure depending on how you feel about hot weather, and the Alamo) in 1999 which just so happened to coincide with the San Antonio Spurs winning their first NBA championship in franchise history. The feeling of living in a city that has just won a major sports championship is like no other. I remember coming home from school a few days after the Spurs beat the Knicks in the finals (a 78-77 win at MSG) to my dad playing me a voicemail that was left by none other than Gregg Popovich thanking the fans for helping their support. As a kid in the 1st grade who had been to a bunch of games, I felt a personal connection to those guys and obviously was skyhigh when the head coach himself thanked me.
The core of that Spurs team was 2nd year player Tim Duncan, the admiral David Robinson, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, Mario Elie, Antonio Daniels, and Malik Rose. It was the beginning of the “Twin Towers” movement with Duncan and Robinson. It was about playing suffocating defense, and dumping the ball into the post and let the Towers do work on offense. They still played in the ginormous Alamodome. The floor colors were pink and green for some reason and I was probably the only kid in trading card history who treasured his Mario Elie and Sean Elliott cards above everything. With the cool and calm demeanor of Gregg Popovich those Spurs played a slow grind it out style that relied heavily on Tim Duncan (who averaged 21 points and 11 rebounds per game) and an older David Robinson (15 points and 10 rebounds).
In a lockout shortened, Post-MJ NBA season this team was pretty much built to dominate. Guys across the league came in out of shape in February and the quality of the basketball wasn’t very high. In fact, the Sacramento Kings were the only team that year to average over 100 points per game. So the Spurs, who only gave up 84 points per game, naturally finished the season with the best record (37-13) and had one of the more dominant playoff runs in NBA history, going 15-2 thanks to this, and some superhuman games from Tim Duncan (including a 31 point 9 rebound game to clinch the championship against the Knicks).
Fast-Forward 14 years, and 3 championships the Spurs are back in the finals again. My experience watching them these days is with some awe that they have not even missed the playoffs once during that time and have adapted to the change in the NBA. After James Harden and the Thunder won 4 straight games against them in the 2012 playoffs everyone thought once again, “the Spurs are finished”. But like they’ve shown in the past, when they lose in the playoffs they never lose any type of momentum. They simply retool and come back next year (since Tim Duncan arrived, the last time they didn’t win at least 50 games was that 1998 lockout season.)
The current San Antonio Spurs look and plays very differently than that team of my childhood. Other than Tim Duncan and Popovich everyone else from ’99 is gone (well Sean Elliott has actually become a super annoying color commentator). The core of this current team is Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Gary Neal and Matt Bonner. These Spurs have adapted to the fast paced, pick-and-roll, smallball game that is the NBA today. Tim Duncan (still around and still playing at a high level) is playing 34 minutes per game and averaging 17 points and 9 rebounds. This teams motor is ran by Tony Parker’s penetration and him finding the plethora of shooters (Bonner, Green, Neal, Leonard) on the perimeter. These Spurs put up 103 points per game in the regular season in one of the most fun up-tempo offenses in the league.
And now these Spurs once again find themselves in the NBA Finals. 14 years apart from Tim Duncan’s first championship, the Spurs are poised to win their 5th. No matter who they face between Indiana and Miami they should feel confident going into the matchup. The Heat clearly aren’t the team they were earlier this season and it’s going to take superhuman efforts from LeBron every night to win (although this is something that he clearly has no problem doing) and the Pacers lack of depth may give them trouble against the extremely deep Spurs.
Regardless, if these 2013 Spurs go onto to win another title this run that they have made is clearly one of the most impressive and consistent ones in not just NBA, but sports history. They’ve done it with a level of class from their major contributors (Duncan and Pop) that is rarely seen. Despite what people may see as being “boring” or to plain, it is actually a level of excellence that we can only hope isn’t over for a long time.