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Sunday, June 2, 2013

Banshee's Best: Spurs Superiority

On Saturday night, the eyes of the basketball world were focused on Indianapolis, Indiana.  LeBron James and his Miami Heat were seeking to eliminate the Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers won and forced a Game 7.  The media and fans have been in a frenzy of analysis and anticipation of Game 7 ever since.  What have the San Antonio Spurs been doing this weekend?  Waiting.  Watching.  Studying and preparing.  The Spurs clinched their spot in the NBA Finals last week when they completed a sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies.  A sweep executed with a level of precision that would be the envy of any surgeon.  This weekend has been a microcosm of the last 15 years for the Spurs.  Every year there is some more exciting team playing in some more glamorous city that captures the fancy of the press and the public.  But away from all that noise, Spurs have been quietly winning for a decade and a half.

(Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
The two constants for the Spurs over the last 15 years have been Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan.  Like the city they live in, neither are glitzy.  Neither are sexy.  But they are winners.  Gregg Popovich was hired as the general manager of the Spurs in 1994.  Partway through the 1996-97 season, Popovich fired head coach Bob Hill and took over the head coaching duties himself.  Due to a season ending injury suffered by David Robinson on Christmas Eve of 1996, the Spurs limped to a 20-62 record in Pop's first year as head coach.  But that dismal season allowed the Spurs to have the first pick in the 1997 draft.  And thus began 15 years of greatness.

In his dual role as head coach and general manager, Popovich used the first pick of the 1997 draft to select Tim Duncan.  Paired with a healthy Robinson, Duncan averaged 20 points per game in his rookie year and helped the team to a 56-win season in 1997-98.  The next season, the Spurs won the world championship.  In 2002, Gregg Popovich gave up his role as GM, but the winning continued.  Despite age and injury turning David Robinson into a shell of himself, the Spurs won the world championship again in 2003.  Even after The Admiral's retirement, the Spurs continued their success.  The Spurs captured two more championships in 2005 and 2007.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
When the Spurs get done with their mini vacation, they will be attempting to win their 5th championship in 15 years.  And yet, headlines such as "Spurs Say Goodbye to Six Years of Pain" appear on the websites of major newspapers.  Six years of pain?  Talk about accentuating the negatives.  Twenty-five other teams did not win a championship during that span either.  Unlike most of those other 25 teams, the Spurs have been consistently excellent during that entire span.  Aside from the strike-shortened season where the Spurs won the championship, the Spurs have won at least 50 games in every single season since Tim Duncan joined the team 15 years ago.  And that includes the 50-win campaign during last year's strike-shortened year.

The Spurs might not have been the most fun team to talk about over the last decade and a half, but they have been the most consistently great franchise in the league.  And once again this year, even in their own conference, the Spurs spent the regular season in the media shadow of the Thunder, the Clippers and Lakers.  In the Western Conference playoffs, the media darlings seemed to be whoever the Spurs were playing.  And if the Heat end up being the Spurs' opponent in the NBA Finals, there is no doubt where the microphones and cameras will be pointed.  But, my guess is that will suit the Spurs fine ... just as it has for the past 15 years.  The Finals are not a popularity contest.  And at the end of the day, the only thing that matters to Popovich, Duncan and the rest of the Spurs is winning four more games.

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