In 1998 NBA Finals, the most monumental athlete in sports history, Michael Jordan, executed a perfect crossover jump shot that sealed his sixth NBA title, and became the perfect send-off for his last ride into the sunset. All that remained were memories, record books rewritten, and an uncertain future over who would carry the torch as the NBA’s new model champion. Jordan’s retirement birthed the rise of a new champion, albeit a different one: The San Antonio Spurs.
The year following the Chicago Bulls final title run, the Spurs would soar to the top of the NBA food chain with coaching guru Greg Popovich, and then youthful phenom forward Tim Duncan. This was a team that was not built around a high-flying poster child of windmill dunks and sneaker endorsements. The Spurs utilized knowledge of the game, and near perfect execution of basketball fundamentals, and for that, most basketball fans would never forgive them. The Spurs were labeled as boring, and a finals series that had Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on the marquee just seemed to be a bit more enticing. The “boring” Spurs became a thorn in the side of highlight seekers, and a true dilemma to 9-year-olds across America, who would have much rather slam dunked their Nerf basketball as Michael Jordan with his tongue out than settled for a short spin move jump hook as an expressionless Tim Duncan. Be that as it may, the Spurs would not be ignored. They were here, they were successful, and they were not going away any time soon.
Shortly after the Spurs’ first title in 1999, two things happened to the organization: they drafted Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the entire team contracted Benjamin Button disease. Either that, or the squad found the fountain of youth in San Antonio. Regardless of cause, the Spurs seemed to only improve with time and it became down-right scary. In a 14-year span, San Antonio would never miss the playoffs, would reach the conference finals eight times, and would be crowned NBA champions four times. Tim Duncan would be awarded three MVP awards, and two Finals MVP awards while averaging 20.2 points and 11.2 rebounds per game during regular season play throughout his career. Tony Parker would become one of the best playoff point guards in recent history by averaging 19.2 points and 5.3 assists in post season play and securing a Finals MVP nomination of his own. Manu Ginobili would mature into a revered spark of energy off the bench, leading San Antonio’s second squad with 15.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.9 assists in the playoffs, securing himself enough recognition to warrant a Sixth-Man of the Year award as well as two All-Star Game appearances. Greg Popovich would silently become the greatest X’s and O’s coach of the modern basketball era, as he constantly fashioned former second round draft picks and past their prime has-beens into important role players on championship caliber teams.
Today, the San Antonio Spurs have swept the Memphis Grizzlies enroute to their fifth NBA Finals appearance in 14 years with the same core group. This is something that has never been done before, but then again, the Spurs are unlike anything we commonly see in professional sports. The ball club has become a single entity. There are no hidden agendas, no pointed fingers, no trade talks, and no paycheck complaints. They operate as a playoff machine, a unit that has been masterfully developed to raise championship banners. The Spurs are a beautiful symphonic orchestra, and Greg Popovich is the maestro. The team’s impeccable ability to use basic fundamentals, run the pick and roll, and incorporate weak side shooting are without match in the NBA. And when the elderly and “boring” San Antonio squad meets at center court to face either the star filled Miami Heat or the sky scraper giants of the Indiana Pacers, remember this: the Spurs were bred for this. They have been carefully crafted and refined to be an opposing team’s worst nightmare, and they will be a headache for any team that operates against them. Oh yeah, and they have never lost in the NBA Finals. Boring indeed.