The 1950s-60s Boston Celtics dynasty, to which every subsequent NBA championship run gets compared, lasted 13 seasons. The Magic Johnson Lakers faded after 12 seasons. The running of the Jordan Bulls? Eight seasons.
San Antonio’s looking to slap NBA title bookends on 15 seasons of excellence.
That’s an NBA title in a lockout-shortened season followed by 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, among which the Spurs sprinkled three more NBA championships and now have a shot at a fifth.
Expansion and free agency didn’t pre-empt such consistency in professional team sports. But the grudging fade of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings leaves San Antonio as the most consistent success show among the major professional sports. That can be said now that the Spurs returned to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007.
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“It feels like forever since we’ve been to this point,” San Antonio center Tim Duncan said after San Antonio swept Memphis in the Western Conference Final. “We’ve been on the verge of getting here. In the last couple of years, we still feel we’re in contention, but we can’t get over that hump to get back in the Finals. It’s just an amazing feeling, honestly.”
Asked if he was worried the Spurs might never get back there, Duncan said, “Nothing’s promised. I don’t know if there was doubt. I would hope we did, but nothing’s promised. Teams continue to change and get better every year. We seem to make minimal changes, and we continue to compete at a high level. To get over that hump, you don’t know when you’re going to get it.”
After young, swift Oklahoma City shot down San Antonio in the 2012 West Final, it appeared there was a new sheriff in the West. Even San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said after this year’s West final that he understood why outsiders would say the time for breaking up the Spurs gang had come.
The core tripod of San Antonio’s success in the 2000s — Duncan, point guard Tony Parker, guard Manu Ginobili — average 34.3 years of age. They weren’t getting any younger and surely Oklahoma City would only get better. Instead, the Thunder lost James Harden (contract issue, trade) and Russell Westbrook (injury). Meanwhile, the Spurs supported their aging core with a younger supporting cast and rest.
And here the Spurs come again.
A small-market franchise that’s consistently successful; whose players stay off the police blotter; that has become integral to the community, both in involvement and national identity (how many people really remember The Alamo?) … San Antonio’s the NBA’s answer to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
Without the love.
While Steelers fans pack stadiums for Steelers road games and a nation that grew up on the Steel Curtain or Blitzburgh tunes in when they’re on TV, San Antonio draws yawns.
Maybe it’s because the only thing flashy about the Spurs the past 15 years is the bright glare from their rings and their record. Duncan’s nickname, The Big Fundamental, sums up the workmanlike way San Antonio goes about business. The secretive way Popovich deals with the media doesn’t invite nationwide embracing.
The common element in the two lowest-rated NBA Finals since 1976 is San Antonio. With the Nets, then playing across the Meadowlands parking lot from Giants Stadium, the Spurs drew a 6.5 average rating in San Antonio’s six-game 2003 triumph. The 2007 sweep of Cleveland undercut that with a 6.2 average for a final featuring the NBA’s best team against the NBA’s best player, LeBron James.
Don’t expect that to be the case this time. No matter the result, don’t expect to see the last of San Antonio, either.