Entering the 2013-2014 season Spurs-fans had questions concerning the remaining careers of the “Big-Three.” Can Tim Duncan ever return to championship form? How many years can he continue to play? Will Manu Ginobili be able to stay injury free for an entire season? Will Tony Parker return to France and play for the team he owns, ASVEL?
These questions were rooted in our uncertainty, which ultimately leads to doubt.
The NBA held out doubt that the Spurs could recover from such a deflating Game 6 loss to Miami in the previous Finals. As Ray Allen’s now infamous three-pointer went through the bottom of the net, it was almost assured that the future of the San Antonio Spurs went with it. Swish. Then a drop, straight down.
If the Spurs had a lesser coach in Gregg Popovich, or what amounts to a never-satisfied core, fans of the team would be witness to the single fastest drop to mediocrity possibly in the history of the league.
In physics its a principle called the angle of repose. It is the single greatest angle, relative to the horizontal plane, to which a material can be piled without slumping or falling. If you try to add something to the pile, it would roll directly off, or bring the rest of the stack down with it.
Too often in sports we see a team, with Hall of Fame credentials, play past its prime, fail in spectacular fashion, and bring their legacy down with them. Perhaps, at the end of the 2013 Finals, the Spurs’ Big-Three, plus Popovich, considered that their pile of four NBA titles was sufficient, and that trying to add to the stack might only be in vain.
If they all came back, a year older, a year slower, and failed to win a fifth championship, would their legacy come tumbling down?
Imagine if those 2013-2014 Spurs didn’t even reach the Playoffs, or if they were the eighth-seed and were bounced in the first round by a team like the Clippers.
Would NBA historians view the legacy of San Antonio differently?
Of course the broadcast media would. Remember how Michael Leahy destroyed Michael Jordan’s failed comeback with the Washington Wizards? His book When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan’s Last Comeback was an indictment of the greatest player in NBA history. The author overlooked Jordan’s greatness, simplifying him as an aging 38-year old has-been with interpersonal issues.
Any reservations the fan base had of the 2013-2014 Spurs were assuaged by their absolute domination of the NBA regular season, going 62-20. In the Playoffs, they demolished the field, sans the Dallas Mavericks who took them to seven games. The reigning NBA Champions, the Miami Heat, were run over 4-1 in the Finals giving the Spurs their fifth franchise title.
Perhaps the Miami Heat’s pile of titles was set at two. Chasing the third in a row sent them tumbling down the stack until they broke as a team. LeBron James left. Chris Bosh tried to. Ray Allen retired. We are now hearing about the internal self-doubt and displeasure that plagued the team during that failed season. Bosh is quoted as saying that playing with James “isn’t fun.” Bosh says he doesn’t have time for players not on his team. A surprising position to take with a player (LeBron) so key to his own success.
If San Antonio is unable to add another title to their stack, and the “Race for Seis” starts the Spurs legacy to tumble the pile, instead of allowing a free fall down that angle of repose, it is our responsibility as fans of the NBA to prop them up.
Did the Heat know that they were approaching that negative angle of success? Could they sense it?
This year’s Spurs team will face those same questions, again.
The first losing streak of a long NBA season will send the pundits into fits, firing off the “I told you so’s” and the “They should have quit while they were ahead’s.”
Success will come for the Spurs when they can avoid that self-doubt. Spurs fans should be glad that they have had practice in avoiding the doubt. Even as they age as a core, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili grow closer together than they do apart.
Ginobili was awful at times in the 2013 Playoffs. Duncan had to lose weight to stay competitive, and Parker sat long stretches this past season in favor of a younger Patty Mills.
Yet, they never lost faith in the system or the team. We never heard of the infighting, or dissatisfaction that eliminates less mature, more manufactured teams, from continued dominance.
The fact remains, however, that the end will come. More than likely, it is nigh-upon us.
The Spurs-trio have played a total of 95,874 minutes in the NBA. That is 40,199 more minutes that then entire Miami Heat teams played during their three title runs.
They already hold the record for the most playoff wins for a “big-three”, eclipsing that of the Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Cooper Los Angeles Lakers.
Tim Duncan’s first world title came in 1999, three months before Kevin Durant’s 11th birthday.
Physically te Spurs are not what they once were, even last year. They may be even better. But, if they are unable to add another title to their stack, and the “Race for Seis” starts the Spurs legacy to tumble the pile, instead of allowing a free fall down that angle of repose, it is our responsibility as fans of the NBA to prop them up.
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There should be no second guessing.
There should be no questioning the desire of a team that has won five titles during the Duncan-era.
This team deserves our best, as they have given us. The NBA should build up great teams instead of immediately looking for the next big thing.
There should be a priority placed on supporting greatness.
So, on October 28th, the Spurs open the regular season against the new-look Dallas Mavericks. You will hear broadcasters filling air-time with comments on the advanced age, reduced quickness, and how the best days are behind the Spurs. I ask you to let it slide. I mean, its physics, after all.