The San Antonio Spurs put forth a playoff run unlike any in recent history, dominating the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in five games to claim their fifth title since 1999. In doing so, the Spurs join a small group of franchises with five or more titles. The other teams list as a who’s who in the chronicles of the league (Celtics, Lakers, Bulls). The Spurs are a team to emulate based on their adherence to the true meaning of “team”; with each player providing his individual efforts towards the team goal. That goal was simply avenging their heart-wrenching loss in the 2013 Finals and claiming what they felt was rightfully theirs, their fifth Larry O’Brien trophy.
The method with which the Spurs dismantled and exposed the Heat came as a surprise to some. To this writer, the qualities of this team and its players that have made them a perennial contender is rare in modern sports. A team in its truest sense, led by a no-nonsense coach who still commands and receives respect from each and every player on the roster; regardless of their individual accomplishments.
It is that type of team harmony and camaraderie that has propelled the Spurs to the top of the heap once again. In sharp contrast, it is the defeated Heat that best demonstrate today’s NBA environment; tremendous individual talent that relied so heavily on two or three players to succeed. For the Spurs, their success came equally from the role players (Danny Green, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter) as it did from their own “Big Three” of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Mannu Ginobli. If not for the MVP effort of third-year forward Kawhi Leonard, the Finals would likely still be going on. It was his emergence in Game 3 that created the vast chasm between the two teams, with the Spurs winning the final three games by a minimum of 15 points.
It is also the composition of the roster that is a rarity in the league, with eight players internationally born. No other champion in league history can claim their roster consisted of such cultural diversity. For all the diversity, the brotherhood among the first to last player on the bench was overtly evident as the Spurs plowed their way through the Heat to claim their title. At any time of the game, fans could see any combination of players on the floor, with every player knowing his role and executing it to perfection regardless of their on-court minutes.
As much at the players try to deflect the media attention, it is their quick-worded, hard-nosed head coach that sets the tone. At no point does Gregg Popovich seek nor accept the accolades that the media and/or fans attempt to shower him with. Despite all of his success, “Coach Pop” stands in the background; daring his players to be great while allowing them to bask in the glow when greatness is achieved. In the annals of NBA history, Popovich’s name likely will and should be mentioned int he same breath as Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson. His accomplishments in today’s revolving door NBA landscape is a true testament to his ability to keep his rosters intact and driven. Never again will fans likely witness player loyalty like the players have to the Spurs; with future hall of famers Duncan, Parker and Ginobli proudly wearing a San Antonio jersey until they hang up their sneakers for good.
Is this the end of the Spurs 15-year league dominance? It is hard to tell. Many an “expert” over the years wanted to officially claim their championship contention was over. The 2008 champion Boston Celtics had a five-year run, with only two finals appearances and one title. The Celtics were dismantled this past season because the core of the team (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) were considered too old to lead a contending team again. The Spurs have been anchored by 38-year old Tim Duncan; a player who played at an elite level in his 17th NBA season (and 6th finals appearance). Father time has yet to catch up with the “Big Fundamental”, a superstar player unlike any other. While every other NBA superstar garners the top billing for their respective franchise, it is Duncan that shies away from the spotlight; and would rather let his teammates and franchise receive the attention and adoration.
Despite all that the modern NBA implies regarding the shelf life of a championship team, it is this Spurs franchise that has defied the odds. In that light, I will not be surprised at all to see the Spurs in this same position next season.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years. He is the founder and Senior Contributor of Banner Day Boston and is host of Banner Day Boston Radio.