San Antonio Spurs: The 5 most important moments of the past decade
By Ethan Farina
It’s been a wild ride and as we approach the new year it’s time to look back at the most influential moments of the decade for the San Antonio Spurs.
Over the past ten years, the San Antonio Spurs have cemented themselves as one of the most consistent professional sports organizations. They didn’t go on dynastic runs of success like those of the Golden State Warriors or Miami Heat, but the Spurs never missed the playoffs and did capture an NBA trophy during the 2010s.
It can’t be seen in just one moment, but the San Antonio Spurs as an organization has had a tremendous impact on the NBA at large. From their style of play to emphasis on organizational synergy, the Spurs have been a model of success that many other teams try to emulate.
There are a few significant moments that need to be recognized before we get into the top five. These moments were important but not in a way that drastically impacted the team as a whole. They’re more focused on an individual than the team.
DeMar DeRozan was able to secure his first career triple-double against his former team in his first season with the Silver and Black. His 21 point, 14 rebound, 11 assist performance clearly meant a lot to the Spurs newly acquired swingman and had the added benefit of coming against his former team.
Another impactful moment was Manu Ginobili‘s game-sealing block on James Harden in the 2017 playoffs. It wouldn’t matter in the end, San Antonio would get swept in the next round by the Warriors. That said, a game-sealing block agasint an in-state rival is still a noteworthy moment.
With those honorable mentions out of the way, it’s time to get into the five most important moments of the decade for the San Antonio Spurs.
Signing LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge had narrowed down his list to the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs before eventually deciding to come back to his home state of Texas in the summer of 2015. As a franchise, the Spurs had never really gone in for big-name free agents. Aldridge immediately became the biggest signing in franchise history.
In his time with the Spurs, Aldridge has been the model of consistency, helping the team navigate the ending of the Big Three era, a franchise-altering trade, and walk the line between contending and rebuilding.
He’s collected multiple All-Star and All-NBA team selections while in San Antonio and has continually been the player the Spurs lean on the most when they need a clutch bucket. He’s been able to simultaneously become more efficient while reducing his workload. It’s been enough to get the Spurs to fully guarantee his contract for the 2020-21 season.
This season hasn’t gone the way that the Spurs had hoped and major changes could be on the way. If that does happen it wouldn’t be surprising to see San Antonio make a difficult decision and part ways with their superstar big man if they can get a promising young player and picks in return.
No matter how this story ends, Aldridge’s decision to sign with the San Antonio Spurs is unquestionably one of the most important moments of the decade. The record-tying number of consecutive playoff appearances would not have been possible without him.
The Kawhi Leonard trade
There was a lot that went into Kawhi Leonard’s eventual split with the San Antonio Spurs. Disagreements on how to handle injury, desire to play in a larger market, and declining to give a certain uncle a private jet may have all helped lead the Spurs to their eventual decision.
There was hope that both parties would be able to talk it out and come to an agreement that would keep Kawhi in San Antonio but there was no such luck. Kawhi was eventually traded to the Toronto Raptors, along with Danny Green, in exchange for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and 2019 first-round pick that would eventually become Keldon Johnson.
Backed into a corner and forced to deal with a superstar who no longer wanted to be there, the Spurs made the best of a bad situation. DeRozan is a good but flawed player, Poeltl may be one of the most important players on the roster today but doesn’t seem like a franchise cornerstone, and Keldon Johnson remains too untested and raw for us to really know what he will be.
It wasn’t supposed to end this way. Kawhi was supposed to be the next great San Antonio Spur, the one who would carry the team long after the Big Three retired. We won’t be able to fully understand the ripple effects until years down the road. Trading away Kawhi was, without a doubt, one of the most important and impactful moves the Spurs made over the past ten years.
The retirement of the Big Three
This isn’t so much a moment as it is six moments. First came their retirement from playing professional basketball, then the retirement of their jerseys in the rafters of the AT&T Center closed the book one the greatest chapter in the history of the San Antonio Spurs.
It all happened so fast. First, it was Tim Duncan after the 2015-16 season, Manu Ginobili followed him into the sunset the year after. Tony Parker was able to tough it out for a bit longer but ultimately called it quits after a one year stint with the Charlotte Hornets.
They retired as one of the game’s most highly decorated trios in NBA history. Throughout their time together they won 575 regular-season games and 126 postseason games including four NBA Championships.
The San Antonio Spurs as we know them would not exist without these three. Together they helped build one of the greatest franchises in the NBA and created a winning culture that has carried on long after they stopped playing.
They’re no longer playing but they’re still impacting the Spurs. Duncan is doing so as an assistant coach and we could see Manu join him sometime in the future. Even in retirement, they’re still giving back to the team.
All that remains for these three is the Basketball Hall of Fame. Duncan is on the ballot for the first time this year. Inducting him as a first-ballot Hall of Famer should be a no brainer. Tony and Manu will join him shortly.
The 2013 NBA Finals
NBA pundits have predicted the demise of the San Antonio Spurs numerous times. These predictions got particularly loud after the Spurs’ first-round exit courtesy of the Memphis Grizzlies in 2010-11. Then, just two years later, the Spurs were back in the NBA Finals.
It was a matchup of Big Three’s as Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker took on LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh led Miami Heat. It was a nail biter of a series from the very beginning.
Tony Parker’s clutch shot with hardly any time remaining gave San Antonio a clutch win on the road to start the series. Miami would win the second and even things up before traveling to Texas. In game three the Spurs unloaded a barrage of three-pointers, courtesy of Gary Neal and Danny Green, in order to take a 2-1 series lead.
San Antonio would drop the second at home and then take the first of three in Miami to set themselves up to walk out of Game 6 with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in hand. Then came the heartbreak.
Ray Allen‘s game-tying three-pointer is one of the most iconic sports moments of the decade. It sucked all the energy out of the Spurs and they were handily defeated by the Heat in Game 7. It also set them up for our #1 most important moment of the decade for the San Antonio Spurs.
The 2014 NBA Championship
The San Antonio Spurs were able to use their crushing defeat in 2013 to inspire one of the greatest single seasons they’ve ever had as a franchise. They tore through the regular season, accumulating 62 wins, finishing first in the Western Conference, and setting themselves up for a rematch with the Miami Heat in the Finals.
A Game 1 air conditioning malfunction in the AT&T Center started the series on an interesting note but soon after that the Spurs really got into their groove and never looked back. Games were close at times but the ending of this rematch of the previous year’s finals was never really in question.
San Antonio clicked on every level during the regular season, routinely carving opponents up with masterfully orchestrated off-ball movements and precise passing. The Finals were more of the same for the Spurs. With shooters on the wings and several very skilled passers, they were able to slice through the Miami Heat on their way to securing their fifth NBA title.
The Finals MVP could have very easily been awarded to Boris Diaw. He averaged 35 minutes per game over the series, led the Spurs in assists and was second in rebounding behind only Duncan. He also played some phenomenal defense on LeBron James when called upon.
LeBron’s primary defender, Kwahi Leonard, would end up receiving his first of his NBA Final’s MVP awards for his phenomenal performance on both sides of the ball.
The 2014 NBA Championship had it all. It was revenge from the previous year’s heartbreak, helped launch Leonard into superstardom, and served as the final high point of the Big Three. You couldn’t have written a better championship story if you tried.
It’s been an amazing decade to be a San Antonio Spurs fan. With all the young talent on the team now the next decade promises to be an interesting one.