Not even 24 hours after winning their fifth championship, and fifth in the last 15 years, do the San Antonio Spurs have me thinking and admitting that they are the greatest franchise is professional sports. And it’s not even close.
How consistent can one franchise be over a time period of 15 years? The New England Patriots are the only other team that come to my mind when I think about greatness. I have marveled over the Spurs best three players are in their 30’s, and two of them are older than 35. But, once again, it looks like this franchise will be O.K. with the rise of 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard. He has literally become an overnight sensation, especially after winning NBA Finals MVP, the second youngest to ever do that. This franchise amazes me, and here is why.
1. Consistency – Ever since Michael Jordan retired, there has been one constant in the NBA: San Antonio. They have made the playoffs every single year. You have to go back to the 1996-1997 season when they last missed the playoffs. Nine times they have either made it to the Western Conference Finals, NBA Finals, or won the NBA Finals. They have only lost in the first round of the playoffs three times. They won three championships in a span of five seasons in the 2000’s. They are 5-1 in the NBA Finals. Heck, I think this team would challenge Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams of the 90’s.
2. Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan – Ever since Popovich has taken over as head coach and ever since Tim Duncan was drafted first overall in 1998, this team has had two clear leaders: a feisty coach who demands the most from everyone, top to bottom and a silent, but deadly big man who will go down as the greatest power forward and one of the game’s greatest players of all time when he decides it is time to call it a career. Popovich has the directed the Spurs to 16 straight 50-plus win seasons, including four 60-plus win seasons.
3. Adaptation – The Spurs looked extremely old when they lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs in 2011. Sine then, Popovich re-invented his offense, making the Spurs into more of an “offensive”, up-tempo high-scoring machine. During their three championships in the 2000’s, the Spurs average pace of play was 89.6 possessions-per 48 minutes. This year, their pace of play was 95 possessions-per 48 minutes. General manager R.C. Buford is the best in the game and when it comes to putting a team together, he listens to Popovich. Pop wants certain players and Buford will go get them for him. Marco Belinelli was a “big” free agent addition for the Spurs this offseason. He hit one of the biggest shots in the NBA Finals in Game 3 when the Miami Heat was making their run. But the casual basketball fan wouldn’t think that a shot at the end of the third quarter would mean much. But it makes all the difference in a game of runs and emotion.
At the end of the day, being successful is about more than one person. It doesn’t mean a hierarchy. Yes, Spurs owner Peter Holt brings in a lot of the money, but everyone knows that and has accepted it. He doesn’t think he is better than anyone in his own organization. He wants his team to be successful and you could tell it last night when he was interviewed by ESPN’s Stuart Scott. He might have gotten a little carried away, but I would be just as pumped if my team had just revenged a painful loss to the Heat in last year’s NBA Finals. Holt realizes that if he didn’t have Popovich, or Duncan, Parker and Ginobili, or Buford, he would be in a much different place and might have even sold the franchise years ago. This team has the “recipe” for success and it was a joy to watch them play basketball this season.