“Tim Duncan is the best player of this generation.” Right now, you read this all over the internet, sports writers have been heaping praise on Duncan and the Spurs since their ousting of the Suns in the Conference Semifinals. Though the above statement has been manifest since around 2004, for a while there was a collective Alzheimer’s in the media regarding the accomplishments of this man and his team. All of that has suddenly changed. Whether it is because of the appalling (from some perspectives) lack of star power since round 1, or whether it is an attempt to make the public forget about the Spurs’ dubious win against Phoenix, sports writers in all avenues are suddenly figuring out what the rest of us have known for years: Duncan’s Spurs deserve to be recognized side by side with, if not above, Shaq’s Lakers as the best team of this era.
And yet, for all the praise going around these days, this is not how the Spurs are going to be remembered. Assuming Lebron James ends up sustaining his level of play and enters into the pantheon of over hyped NBA greats, Duncan and the Spurs will either be the faces of that insurmountable opponent that frustrated young Lebron’s first attempt, or they will forever be known as the giant that the young one felled at the tender age of 22. I compare it to the way we look at those great late 80’s Pistons teams. Today, we look at them as the obstacle that Jordan had to get over to become great. We don’t often remember the Pistons as their own team, instead placing them in the context of the Jordan legacy. I feel as though, win or lose, this is how the 2007 San Antonio Spurs will be remembered. Not that they care of course. It is well known that the Spurs care only about winning and Tony Parker’s rap career—reputation pales in comparison.
Even if Pop and Co will never admit to caring about their place in history, I wonder if the basketball world is doing itself a disservice. What the Spurs have done in the past 9 years is nothing short of remarkable. Their accomplishments have been muted for a number of reasons (such as the fact that they have failed to win two years in a row), but the fact is, they have been among the favorites to win a title every year. In 2000, they would have gone deep into the playoffs but for Tim Duncan’s foot injury that resulted in the champs getting ousted in round one. In 2001 and 2002 they were in a period of transition, they’re roster had huge changes between their 1999 and 2003 titles. Still, they remained the best team outside of California (I would have loved to see a Spurs/Kings series during these years. Could you imagine Tim Duncan going at Chris Webber in his prime?). In 2004 they would have won the title if not for that highly deflating Fischer shot and the resulting losses. (By the way, does anyone else see parallels between the Lakers/Spurs series in 2004 and the Mavericks/Heat series last year? In both cases, a team loaded with veterans found itself down, and rallied after a close victory to sweep the rest of a series against a superior team. Just a thought) In 2006, despite Tim Duncan’s severe foot injury, they played as well as ever, falling to a healthier, younger, and perhaps better Dallas team. People talk all the time about Jordan’s flu game, well Duncan had the plantar fasciitis season! I don’t expect people to suddenly give San Antonio their due, its much too late for that, but I hope that 20 years from now, we realize that we were witness to a wonderful era in basketball history, a time when the San Antonio Spurs defined success.
EDIT: Need confirmation of my fear? Kevin Pelton of supersonics.com, in his NBA Finals preview, writes: "Still, as Cleveland prepares to face San Antonio in the first NBA Finals in franchise history, the series is seen as largely about James. Will this be the first step towards his legacy or champion or another learning lesson along that path?"