By Jay Rich
Hip Hop Vibe Staff Writer
Old NBA stories often talk about the dynasties of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The NBA charter franchises were credited for finding ways to always be winners. But, in the late 1980s, the San Antonio Spurs decided to make that move.
Coming over from the ABA, the Spurs only enjoyed moderate success in the NBA. But, their early years in the league were overshadowed by the likes of the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons, and Trail Blazers. Fortunes changed when David Robinson joined the Spurs roster.
David Robinson helped give the Spurs a true star for the first time, but they still were in the shadow of the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. Stuck in the middle, things quickly went south when Robinson was injured and missed the entire 1996-97 season, but it was a blessing in disguise. Bottoming out, the Spurs won the top draft pick and chose Tim Duncan.
Prior to drafting Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs were perceived as a good team with potential to be great, but likely to never be a champion. After Michael Jordan retired, the Spurs became the class of the NBA and Robison realized he’d need to take a backseat in order for the team to win. In 1999, the Spurs won the championship, although they received flack from Phil Jackson, due to winning the championship during the lockout year.
Phil Jackson said the Spurs’ championship should come with an asterisk and this set the stage for a major rivalry between the Spurs and Jackson. In 1999, following the Spurs sweeping the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, Phil Jackson joined the team as head coach. From 2000 to 2001, the Lakers went 8-1 against the Spurs in the playoffs, until they got their revenge in 2003, winning their second title in a full season where they had the NBA’s top record.
After winning the 2005 championship, the San Antonio Spurs established themselves as a new type of dynasty and their core of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili was the original “Big Three” of the 21st century. Despite being labeled as “old and boring,” the Spurs continued posting 50 win seasons as teams came and went. Most casual fans forgot about the Spurs following their 2007 championship, until they showed up in the 2013 Finals.
LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh did something no other team in NBA history did, when they defeated the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals, en route to their second straight title. But, in typical Spurs fashion, they returned to the Finals and made quick work of the Heat, the following year. Then, questions of age began to arise, as the 2014 season was Tim Duncan’s seventeenth and Kawhi Leonard was cemented as the Spurs star.
In 2015, the Spurs lost a tough first round series against Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the LA Clippers, but they retooled in the offseason. They added LaMarcus Aldridge and the Spurs rolled through the regular season, going 67-15, one of the top records in NBA history, but the Steph Curry-led Golden State Warriors happened to set a new NBA record for best all-time season, relegating San Antonio to the second seed. Then, last night happened.
Over the past eight years, the Spurs have shown cracks in their armor, as they lost in the first round in 2009, got swept in 2010, and got upset as the first seed in 2011, despite posting the NBA’s best record. Even the lockout-shortened 2012 season saw them blow a 2-0 lead against the young Thunder. Although they made two straight finals in 2013 and 2014, the Spurs lost one, which was un-Spurs-like.
These losses, paired with the age of Tim Duncan, along with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, paired with losing to the Thunder, again in upset fashion, have many questioning what comes next. In the case of Tim Duncan, he doesn’t know, but he could surely continue competing. After all, 67 wins and a second round out would go down as the best season in history to a team like the the Hornets or Pelicans (no pun on their weird history intended).
But, the Spurs have found ways to stay on top, akin to the Lakers and the Celtics and trail only them and the Bulls in most league championships. Still, disappointing losses have become a trend in recent Spurs history and it’s clear that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are, potentially, a new version of Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, as they are the only duo outside of Shaq and Kobe to ever beat the Tim Duncan-led Spurs in two different playoff series.
Watch the highlights from last night’s game below:
Follow Jay Rich on Twitter @JRichardson2597.