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The Invisible Dynasty

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Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics.

Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal’s Los Angeles Lakers.

Lebron James’ Miami Heat.

These are all dynasties. They are all famous and endlessly talked about in the basketball world. Each of these teams is the subject of extensive writing and debate. However, there is a dynasty that is rarely talked about – a power hiding in plain sight: Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs.

If you’ve heard about them at all, you probably hear the same few keywords: consistent but boring. Not exciting to watch. What you probably don’t hear are a couple choice facts: Since Tim Duncan was drafted in 1997 the San Antonio Spurs have won four NBA championships, been to five NBA Finals, and earned the highest winning percentage of ANY team in the four major American sports (football, baseball, basketball, and hockey).

But those keywords are what hold them back in the eyes of many casual fans. They’ve won for so long it’s now commonplace. They haven’t experienced any headline-grabbing scandals, but they also don’t have any stars that want to jump into the limelight. What they have is an exceptional coach, an all-time great player, two other possible future Hall of Famers, and a constantly evolving, but always exemplary supporting cast.

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SpursAfter the 1996-97 season, the Spurs were anything but a dynasty. They were coming off of a 20-62 season, the worst in franchise history. They had fired their previous head coach and replaced him with Gregg Popovich, the team’s general manager who had very limited coaching experience. But they held the rights to the first pick of the draft, and Tim Duncan from Wake Forest was widely considered the top player.

At this point, the dynasty was beginning. The following season Duncan, along with previous team star David Robinson, formed a formidable big man duo known throughout the league as “The Twin Towers.” The Spurs won 56 games that season, the biggest single season turnaround in NBA history.

Their first championship however, eluded them until the strike-shortened 1999 season. That year they owned the NBA’s best record (37-13), and they defeated the New York Knicks in five games to win the title. Tim Duncan, in what would become a common occurrence, was named the NBA Finals MVP.

The next few seasons established the Spurs as an NBA powerhouse. Even though they didn’t win the title, they started a streak of winning at least 50 games in a season that’s lasted from the 1999-2000 season to today. The 15 straight years of at least 50 wins is an NBA record and an incredible statistic that shows the Spurs were not only successful but also able to consistently carry on their winning ways.

They were helped in this regard by the 2001 NBA Draft, which saw the Spurs draft future franchise cornerstones Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. This started a trend for the Spurs that saw them remain leaders in scouting international players (Parker is from France and Ginobili is from Argentina) – a trend that continues to this day.

The 2002-2003 season saw the Spurs lose David Robinson, one of the most popular and successful players in franchise history. The team was left in good hands, however, with Duncan as their number one option. He went on to win his first regular season MVP (he won his next the following year), and the team was able to send Robinson off with the franchise’s second championship, beating the New Jersey Nets in six games.

The Spurs gained their third title during the 2004-2005 season, beating the defending champion Detroit Pistons in an exciting seven-game series. Once again, Duncan was named Finals MVP, while Ginobili came into his own during the regular season. Ginobli was named to the Western Conference All Star team, and he averaged over 20 points per game in the playoffs.

The Spurs’ final championship came during the 2006-2007 season. It was no longer Duncan doing the heavy lifting, but a three-man effort between he, Ginobili and Parker, who was selected to his second All Star game during the season. The “Big Three” led the team to a 58-24 record and a four-game sweep over the Cleveland Cavaliers. This time it was Parker winning the Finals’ MVP, leading the way with 24 points per game.

Since their last championship, San Antonio has appeared in the playoffs each year, making it to the Western Conference Finals three times and the NBA Finals once more. They’ve also gained another keyword: old. As Duncan and Ginobili get older (37 and 36 as of today), more and more skeptics count them out.

But with age also comes experience, and the Big Three have plenty, especially when it comes to winning. Duncan alone is approaching 900 career wins, and the trio has won almost 500 games together as teammates, the third most in NBA history. San Antonio also has promise in another budding star: Kawhi Leonard, who already plays a key role for the Spurs but seems destined for more when the time comes.

To say the Spurs are boring is to say that being dominant is boring, or that winning championships is dull. Truth be told, watching San Antonio play is anything but boring. While their early years of success were marked by their great defense, recent years have shown that they can also score better than everyone.

So why are the Spurs mostly ignored? Problems include their inability to grab headlines for anything other than winning. None of their players are in the news for their off the court antics or any kind of legal trouble. Even their stars are low profile, with Duncan being considered one of the most low-key superstars in history. San Antonio honestly doesn’t seem to care about what labels people put on them. All they care about is their next win.

You can have your definition of exciting. You can watch and talk about the New York Yankees and the Lakers. I’ll stick with my Spurs.

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About Nicholas Szabo

Currently a Junior at the University of Oklahoma majoring in Broadcast/Electronic Media with a minor in Film.
  • Charlie

    So glad the Spurs not only won the NBA title (again) but beat down LeBron to get it. Job well done!