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Adam Gold

Spurs take their place among the all-time greats

Posted June 17

This was supposed to be a coronation of Pat Riley's latest "three-peat."

(I'm not really sure if I need to send Riles a check or ask permission to use his copyrighted (or trademarked) phrase here, so if I owe him something please let me know where to send the payment.)

In any case, today was to have been the parade honoring the third consecutive LeBron James-led Miami Heat title. The best player on the planet would surely elevate his very imperfect team, coax just enough out of a strong-yet-aging cast of backup singers and ultimately push Miami over the top into immortality.

Only three franchises have ever won three titles in succession: the Lakers, Celtics and Bulls, and the Heat looked very poised to add to that list after winning game two in San Antonio to even the series and wrest home-court advantage away from the Spurs.

In fact, you could have easily surmised that Miami could have – maybe even should have – been up 2-0 in the series since they were in position to win Game 1 in San Antonio until James' body shut down. Why the league agreed to play the series opener in the country's biggest sauna will be a mystery for a long time, but both teams had to deal with the conditions. However, no LeBron means no way Miami can win, and the end result was that James was unavailable for the last half of the fourth quarter and was compromised long before then.

Yet, having watched the three subsequent games of this series, it's pretty clear that even had the Spurs dropped the opening pair at home, they were going to prevail eventually. The difference between the two teams was that obvious. San Antonio took an average halftime lead of more than 15 points into the locker room over those three games,  and only in Game 3 did Miami offer anything that resembled a third-quarter fight.

This was a calculated, systematic, surgical mollywhopping of an NBA Finals, and while some may disagree, the San Antonio Spurs needed this a lot more than did Miami.

They needed a fifth NBA championship – a fifth title in the last 16 years. They needed a crowning achievement on a run of sustained excellence the likes of which we've only seen from the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. Not even the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls (for obvious reasons) were able to sustain this level of play for this length of time. For 16 seasons, the San Antonio Spurs have been the model that franchises in all sports aspire to become. A team about team. A team of great players willing to accept that what was best for the team was also best for them, even if it means leaving personal gain on the table.  

There's a big difference, however, between being a great franchise and team that will go down in the annals of league history.  

San Antonio achieved a lot over a decade and a half under Greg Popovich – who will surely take his place alongside Red Auerbach, Phil Jackson and Pat Riley, the best coaches in the history of professional basketball.  

Great franchises are admired for many reasons, especially one like the Spurs that has managed to hold on to their best players for an extended period.  Show me another team in the last three decades that managed to keep three certain Hall of Fame players like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and still have the ability to surround them with other difference-making players. Still, this was as much about the organization of Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford than it was about the team itself.

The only thing lacking for San Antonio was a signature moment. Some will point to the fact that from 1999-2013, San Antonio won 10 division titles, won four championships and played for another, and never once won fewer than 50 games in a season.

Well, that's not entirely true. In that first season San Antonio won "only" 37 games. Of course, that was the first of two labor-shortened seasons, and the Spurs' 37-13 record was the best in the NBA. But, in every other year Popovich's team won at least 50.

No team has ever sustained that level of success over that long of a period of time. Not without at least one hiccup. And, before you think I'm saying that this team is better than the Celtics teams that won 11 of 13 titles in the 50s and 60s, pump your brakes. That would be silly, and while you might not agree with me, I'm not about being silly.

For all of their sustained, continuous success, there was something missing from San Antonio's legacy as a legendary team. Yes, they'd won titles in 1999 (Knicks), 2003 (Nets), 2005 (Pistons) and 2007 (Cavaliers). However, other than their win over the Pistons, who were the defending champions in 2005, none of those other wins was over a team anyone thought to be great.

The Spurs needed to slay a giant.

The Knicks were the eighth seed in the East in 1999, playing the finals without injured center Patrick Ewing. Their run to the championship series was more surprising than validating, and the Spurs made easy work of them. Four years later, the Spurs took out the Nets, who were led in scoring by Jason Kidd. And, while Kidd will surely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, any team that he led in scoring had limited firepower to say the least. Then in 2007, it was the first Finals appearance for LeBron James. And, as James said just the other night, the Cavaliers were really just happy to be there, and it showed in a series sweep.

Maybe most important in this equation of basketball brilliance – if you still don't think the Spurs needed further validation of their greatness – was that it had been seven years since their last title. We're starting to realize that the historically great teams can't go a decade without a championship and still maintain that Teflon status. With each passing year, the New England Patriots move closer to Atlanta Braves territory than to the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970s or the San Francisco 49ers of the 80s and 90s.

The Spurs needed another "skin" on the wall, and that it came at the expense of the best player on earth and avenged a bitter Finals loss to Miami a year ago only adds to the weight of the accomplishment.

When we talk about the greatest teams of all time, speaking far less about individual seasons, we start with those Celtics teams that won 11 of 13 crowns, mostly at the expense of the Lakers of Baylor, West, Goodrich and eventually Chamberlain. Then you look to the Magic Johnson-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar "Showtime" Lakers who captured five crowns in nine seasons, going first through the Julius Erving 76ers and then the Boston teams with Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale.

Great champions, historical greatness, is created in part by legendary opponents. For the first time in their 16-year reign of excellence, the San Antonio Spurs can say they ousted one of those teams and take their rightful place among the greatest in the history of the NBA.

21 Comments

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  • dave437 Jun 19, 10:04 a.m.

    at least Battier went to class....

    (we think)....

  • mittnfriends Jun 18, 8:51 a.m.

    "Things were so much better back when..."

    Haha... gotta love those people.

    The league is bigger, stronger, faster and more talented than it's ever been. It's called evolution. It's natural. It happens. We can appreciate the greatness that was, but let's not be prudes and disrespect what we have now.

  • mittnfriends Jun 18, 8:44 a.m.

    That was a total beat down on queen james!!! Just another high school flunky that ran into a w... View More

    — Posted by same ole story

    Well, isn't that ironic; questioning a highly successful person's intelligence when you yourself is lacking in it. It was LeGOAT vs. the Spurs the whole series. His team was nowhere to be found. Last I checked, Jordan, Bird, Magic, and Thomas didn't have to deal with that when they were playing in the finals. And, no I'm not questioning Duncan's greatness.

    So, let me break it down for you. 2014 Finals
    - Duncan- 33 mpg, 15 ppg, 10 rpg,, 2 apg, 57 fg%, 67 ft%
    - LeGOAT- 38 mpg, 28 ppg, 8 rpg, 4 apg, 57 fg%, 80 ft%

    Note: Duncan had a team full of guys that showed up, made big plays and big shots. LeGOAT, quite the opposite. LeGOAT had nearly the same amount of rebounds, yet isn't locked in the post the whole game like Duncan. LeGOAT had the same FG%, yet took 27 more 3 pointers than Duncan, and who knows how many more jump shots.

    Though LeGOAT was the only one that showed up for the Heat, I think the Spurs greatness had a lot to do with it.

  • 45HEELSFAN45 Jun 18, 2:47 a.m.

    Beating a team in the finals that started Mario Chalmers ... just isn't in the same class...

    You... View More

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    great job staying on topic.... are you ever gonna post about the Spurs...and not about your... View More

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    News flash...first post on article

    ROFL

    Round and round....

  • 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo Jun 18, 2:28 a.m.

    Beating a team in the finals that started Mario Chalmers ... just isn't in the same class...

    You... View More

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    great job staying on topic.... are you ever gonna post about the Spurs...and not about your inferiority complex to Battier?

  • 45HEELSFAN45 Jun 18, 12:57 a.m.

    Beating a team in the finals that started Mario Chalmers ... just isn't in the same class...

    You were downplaying Mario for your beloved Heat but SB isn't much better, He was resting in the earlier rounds as you pointed out in another thread. I was waiting for that world class athlete to show his stuff since he is so great.

    Still the premise of the article is Spurs VS Heat and it was worth discussing but 2001 was way out there...

  • 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo Jun 18, 12:45 a.m.

    Nope. Go back to my post (the 2nd post of the thread and your response...

    Red auerbach's celtics, showtime lakers, Detroit bad boys, bird, Parrish, mchale... Those were all time greats...

    Beating a team in the finals that started Mario chalmers ... just isn't in the same class...

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    or Shane Battier...oops that right ...he was resting

    - Posted by dipsh*t


    You were the one that couldn't stay on topic...

  • 45HEELSFAN45 Jun 18, 12:10 a.m.

    Yes, let's do stay on topic (says the one that brought up battier, whined about staying on... View More

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    Who did the Spurs play? Who did Battier play for? The Heat.... alot more relevant than 2001

    Carry... View More

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    Another post about Battier...Great job "staying on topic"...

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    You keep bring him up....

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    bringing

  • 45HEELSFAN45 Jun 18, 12:09 a.m.

    Lets try to stay on topic here...since this is an article about the finals

    Let's see if Danny... View More

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    Yes, let's do stay on topic (says the one that brought up battier, whined about staying on... View More

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    Who did the Spurs play? Who did Battier play for? The Heat.... alot more relevant than 2001

    Carry... View More

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    Another post about Battier...Great job "staying on topic"...

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    You keep bring him up....

  • 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo Jun 18, 12:01 a.m.

    Wanna compare Shane's career with anyone on that 2001 UNC roster?

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    Lets try to stay on topic here...since this is an article about the finals

    Let's see if Danny... View More

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    Yes, let's do stay on topic (says the one that brought up battier, whined about staying on... View More

    — Posted by 903 Born 2 B Hated, Dying 2 B Lo

    Who did the Spurs play? Who did Battier play for? The Heat.... alot more relevant than 2001

    Carry... View More

    — Posted by 45HEELSFAN45

    Another post about Battier...Great job "staying on topic"...

More...

 

 

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Scoreboard
Local
Final
UNC 82
OSU 74
Final
MVSU 60
NCCU 94
 
2nd
UNCW 42
ECU 28
 
2nd
CAR 1
NYR 0
 
Half
CHA 52
UTA 39
 
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
Final
NYK 90
PHO 99
Half
NOP 44
POR 62
 
Half
CHA 52
UTA 39
 
1st
HOU 2
ATL 0
 
8:30pm Tonight
DAL
SAN
9:00pm Tonight
DEN
IND
10:30pm Tonight
LAC
MIL
Final
LALAF 16
NEV 3
Final
UTEP 6
UTST 21
Final
COLST 10
UTAH 45
3rd
AFA 23
WMICH 10
 
9:15pm Tonight
BGU
SALABAMA
Final
GEOR 81
CHAR 78
Final
WKENT 67
LOU 76
Final
MICH 51
SMU 62
Final
CIN 47
VCU 68
Final
BSU 77
ABCHRIST 33
 
Final
PROV 85
UMASS 65
Final
AMER 46
MNTER 45
 
Final
UNC 82
OSU 74
Final
IUPUI 71
SALA 65
 
Final
VILL 82
SYR 77
Final
VT 64
CITA 61
Final
DUQ 79
MLOWELL 63
 
Final
FAIR 61
BEL 73
 
Final
YALE 60
GTDNS 64
 
Final
FD 76
DEL 74
 
Final
PSU 73
DREX 68
Final
UNCG 64
ELON 71
 
Final
ILL 62
MIZZ 59
Final
CAMP 90
MONT 64
 
Final
LONG 106
PSUBEAVER 74
 
Final
HOU 63
SCST 71
 
Final
FSU 75
SFLA 62
Final
BING 51
BONA 69
 
Final
RUTG 68
RFLSH 73
 
Final
MCNST 69
TOL 83
 
Final
JVU 84
TRUETT 55
 
Final
GT 65
VANDY 60
Final
INDST 56
EILL 60
 
Final
BUT 73
IND 82
Final
STEPH 94
ARTCH 57
 
Final
OREG 83
DELST 70
 
Final
Terriers 61
FATL 56
 
Final
TXARL 89
HPYN 50
 
Final
KU 96
LAF 69
Final
ARKST 67
MARS 58
Final
MEM 78
ORU 63
Final
KNST 53
UMBC 66
 
Final
NW 67
WMICH 61
Final
MIZST 65
EMICH 77
 
Final
CHIST 77
STJOE 54
 
Final
KENT 83
UCLA 44
Final
COC 68
DAVID 80
Final
RIU 69
DET 55
Final
UCR 78
HOUB 67
 
Final
MURST 89
ILLST 77
 
Final
NWST 89
LALAF 85
 
Final
WAGN 66
MON 74
 
Final
MVSU 60
NCCU 94
 
Final
PITT 81
OU 77
Final
TENNM 77
PBY 60
 
Final
WYO 57
SOUTH 39
 
Final
AFA 75
UCD 81
Final
MSST 51
USCU 53
 
Final
JMU 71
HIGH 80
 
Final
TXST 90
HTILL 56
 
Final
DRAK 54
ISU 83
Final
SHU 73
UNH 60
 
Final
SCU 72
NE 78
 
Final
MSU 64
TXSOU 71
Final
UF 63
WAKE 50
Final
ND 94
PURD 63
Final
SHSU 61
PVU 44
 
1st OT
AUB 73
XAV 73
 
2nd
AKR 48
BLUFFTON 27
 
Half
DAY 39
BU 32
 
2nd
UNCW 42
ECU 28
 
2nd
CLMB 34
HOF 38
 
2nd
GMAS 45
IONA 38
 
2nd
TOWS 20
LAS 34
 
2nd
MAN 47
MRGST 48
 
2nd
CCST 45
YALE 56
 
2nd
PEPP 34
RICH 35
 
2nd
MAR 36
STJOE 47
 
2nd
KYST 39
TEXAM 32
 
2nd
MAST 49
VALPO 46
 
Half
UMKC 44
INCWORD 31
 
Half
IDST 29
CALST 32
 
1st
NIOWA 20
IOWA 24
 
1st
SIUE 17
UWMIL 18
 
1st
TEX 8
LBSU 5
 
1st
TCU 5
TXSA 5
 
8:30pm Tonight
ARK
SEMIZ
9:00pm Tonight
NCOL
JVST
 
9:00pm Tonight
ARST
LEH
 
9:00pm Tonight
NMST
NMU
 
9:00pm Tonight
WASH
OKLA
9:00pm Tonight
GRCN
STED
 
9:00pm Tonight
WEBER
WLVRN
 
9:30pm Tonight
WVU
NCSU
10:00pm Tonight
SDST
BST
10:00pm Tonight
GONZ
CPSL
10:00pm Tonight
PAC
FRES
10:00pm Tonight
PORT
MNTST
 
10:00pm Tonight
CSNO
TAMCC
 
10:05pm Tonight
UTST
SDKST
 
11:00pm Tonight
BYU
STAN
11:30pm Tonight
UNLV
UTAH
Final
LOS 4
ARI 2
2nd
CLB 1
CHI 0
 
2nd
BUF 0
COL 2
 
1st Intermission
PIT 2
FLA 1
 
2nd
CAR 1
NYR 0
 
1st Intermission
MON 1
OTT 1
 
1st Intermission
TOR 3
PHI 3
 
2nd
NYI 0
TAM 0
 
2nd
NJD 0
WAS 1
 
1st
MIN 1
NAS 0
 
10:00pm Tonight
VAN
CAL
10:30pm Tonight
SJS
STL
Final
WAS 27
PHI 24
8:25pm Tonight
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