The Last Dance: What era should the Spurs documentary be focused on?
By Ethan Farina
The San Antonio Spurs run of success has spanned two decades and countless NBA changes, but what specific time span should it be focused on?
Basketball fans and sports lovers around the world are left with a ‘Last Dance’ sized hole in their hearts this week. The highly praised ESPN documentary series wrapped up on Sunday night, closing the book on one of the best sports documentary series we will ever see. The success of the series has led us to pose the question: which years of the San Antonio Spurs history deserve their own in-depth look?
There aren’t many downsides to a two-decade run of success and no San Antonio Spurs fan should ever consider complaining about the team’s ability to make the playoffs time and time again. But the incredible sustained success the team has had makes it hard to fit everything into a ten-part documentary series. There’s simply too much potential content.
The easiest place to start would be at the beginning, with the 1997 lottery. Just as Michael Jordan‘s Bulls were coming to the end of their run of success, the Spurs were rising. David Robinson had led San Antonio to playoff berths and Conference Finals in his first few years with the team but injuries derailed the ’96-97 season and set the Spurs up for a high draft pick.
One thing that could be focused on, that often gets overlooked now that it’s so far in the rearview, is that San Antonio selecting Tim Duncan wasn’t a sure thing. The Boston Celtics actually had the best lottery odds that year. Can you imagine Duncan wearing Celtics green? It’d be like Kobe playing in the Garden. Thankfully the basketball gods smiled on the Spurs and gave them the clear path to select one of the all-time greats.
From there a potential doc could focus on the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season and the Spurs’ first championship. Now, Jordan said that the Bulls could have run it back and won four in a row but that’s not a sure thing. A condensed season could have played into the hands of a veteran team but between Duncan and Robinson, it would’ve been hard. My money would still be on San Antonio.
After the championship, one thing that would absolutely need to be touched on would be Doc Rivers‘ courtship of Duncan as he tried to get him to come to the Orlando Magic. It’s one of the crazier ‘what if’s’ in NBA history and it almost never gets talked about. And it all came down to something so small as a team policy about having family members on team planes.
The idea that Duncan could’ve played anywhere else is bananas to most Spurs fans. He’s one of the few players to have a legendary career with the same team, the possibility of it never happening is so outside of what we know that it would be a necessary inclusion in any long-form Spurs documentary.
Other obvious inclusions would be the acquisition of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the difficulties Gregg Popovich had in coaching them and coming to terms with some of the wildness that the two brought. Tony came to the Spurs as just a 19-year-old and really grew up in his time with the team. The Big Three have all talked about how hard Pop coached him and interviews with the two about exactly what that entailed would be fascinating to see.
The mid-2000s would be full of great Spurs content for a documentary. The titles in 2003, 2005, and 2007, the brief interaction between Duncan and LeBron James after the 2007 title where Duncan thanked LeBron for “letting them have this one” while telling him that the league would soon be his.
There are also a few gut-punch moments that would have to be mentioned. Derek Fisher‘s shot with just .4 seconds left in 2004, Tracy McGrady‘s 13 points in 33 seconds scoring barrage in December of that year, to name a few.
It would be unfair to call the time between the Spurs championship in 2007 and their next venture to the Finals in 2013 a ‘dark period’, they were still rattling off 50 wins a year and making the playoffs. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Just as ‘The Last Dance’ touched on some of the behind the scenes troubles the Bulls faced, any documentary on the Spurs would have to do the same.
Unfortunately, a few of those troubles would be centered around Parker. There were the allegations that he wasn’t the best teammate, that he was involved with the spouse of a former teammate, and the eye injury he suffered during a fight between Drake and Chris Brown at a New York City night club. The road to success is never smooth and even the Spurs are not immune to controversy. It would be uncomfortable to go into these moments in great detail but they deserve mentioning at the very least.
The finale and centerpiece of any Spurs documentary should center around the back to back Finals trips in 2013 and 2014. There are so many fascinating storylines that come into play that make that 2014 Championship the sweetest one. Those two years would serve as the perfect crescendo to a Spurs documentary.
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I’ve never been so viscerally affected by a moment in sports as I was by Ray Allen‘s 3-pointer in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. The arena staff had been preparing to rope off the court, the trophy was being wheeled out, another Spurs championship was literally seconds away. And then came the heartbreak. The emotion of that moment, the well-known team dinner that came after, and how every player coped with that loss in their own way would be as interesting and dramatic as anything that was in ‘The Last Dance’.
As painful as that 2013 Finals loss was, it set up a dramatic and cathartic 2014 title run. The 2013-14 season is a favorite for many Spurs fans. The way the team tore through the regular season, the free-flowing and objectively beautiful way they played, the thrilling Western Conference Finals series against the Thunder, the confidence the Spurs came into the Finals with, and the eventual redemption they achieved, all of these factors came together to make one of the most thrilling seasons ever.
In just the 2014 Finals alone there were several noteworthy sub-plots that could be well documented. You had Kawhi’s emergence as a real two-way star, his defense on LeBron that led to his first Finals MVP trophy, the superb play of Parker and Boris Diaw, and the fact that it served as the final triumph of the winningest trio in NBA history.
The documentary series could end with the acquisition of LaMarcus Aldridge, retirements of the Big Three, Kawhi’s 2017 run and eventual injury in the playoffs, the Uncle Dennis drama, and subsequent trade to Toronto, bringing us essentially to where we are now.
It’s a lot of ground to cover, possibly too much. To do the journey of the San Antonio Spurs and the Big Three true justice in just 10 episodes would a near-impossible feat, but if they were able to do it with Jordan’s Bulls there’s reason to hope that the Spurs could someday receive the same treatment.