Any team with LeBron James as its leader becomes substantially tougher to beat, and some prominent San Antonio Spurs have had mixed results over the years.
As the San Antonio Spurs know, if there’s one thing that can silence haters, it’s winning an NBA championship. After hearing for years that he could only succeed in the Eastern Conference, LeBron James took just two seasons to lead a Western Conference team to the promised land.
After leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the title this season, LeBron James now sits one ring away from the likes of Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant with four banners to his name. Still putting up superstar numbers at age 35, it’s tough to see a world where James doesn’t at least reach five titles soon.
Like Michael Jordan was to guys like Karl Malone and Charles Barkley, LeBron is the type of talent that can single-handedly prevent entire franchises from winning titles they otherwise should’ve won. Nobody knows that better than DeMar DeRozan, who had the misfortune of having James follow him to the West once the Spurs traded for him in 2018.
As DeRozan lamented to J.J. Redick on a recent podcast episode we covered, it’s “tough to get past the m—–f—–.” The entire East knows that all too well, and if Los Angeles has its way, the West might be learning that more and more as the years go by.
Fortunately for Spurs fans, Gregg Popovich has had as much success against James as you could reasonably expect, but that luck has been fading in recent years. As LeBron looks to make up for early losses to one of his favorite opposing coaches in Popovich, here’s a look at how some prominent San Antonio Spurs have fared against the King so far.
Next: No. 5
5. Patty Mills: 10-9 Regular Season, 5-2 Playoffs, 15-11 Overall
The margin may be dwindling, but Patty Mills currently has a winning record against LeBron James in both the regular season and in the NBA playoffs. The San Antonio Spurs more than held their own against LeBron James in his debut season with the Lakers in 2018-19, taking three out of four games.
The Lakers, armed with Anthony Davis, struck back in a big way this season, sweeping the Spurs in all three meetings. While I was rooting for the Silver and Black to miraculously snag the eighth seed, one tiny silver lining is that at least it probably helped guys like Mills preserve their winning postseason record against LeBron.
Patty Mills played a huge role in the San Antonio Spurs’ dominant revenge Finals in 2014, where the Miami Heat just couldn’t stop the avalanche of attacks from a team collectively exorcising their demons all at once.
As a result of the gentlemen’s sweep of the Heat, Mills now enjoys a 71 percent win rate against James in the playoffs, but if the Spurs can find their way back into the postseason, that will likely balance out. For now, Mills can enjoy the fact that he’s had some big games against LeBron James, no matter the team he’s on.
Next: No. 4 & 3
4. Rudy Gay: 9-20 Overall, All regular season
Having a 31 percent success rate against any opponent isn’t pretty, but that’s where Rudy Gay currently stands against LeBron James. Individually, Rudy has done fairly well against LeBron James throughout his career, averaging 17.0 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists per game.
Unfortunately, most of Gay’s faceoffs against James have come on the Memphis Grizzlies and Sacramento Kings, who weren’t winning much in general throughout much of his stints. Since he joined the Spurs in 2017-18, San Antonio went 0-2 against LeBron’s Cavaliers, 3-1 against his Lakers, and 0-3 against the Lakers again.
No matter where both men have gone, LeBron has had Rudy’s number when it comes to going home victorious. Is it all that surprising that he has an advantage over Gay in head-to-head wins? Not at all. The margin between the two is certainly unexpected, though.
3. Kawhi Leonard: 8-5 Regular season, 7-5 Playoffs, 15-10 Overall
Any player that spent time with the Toronto Raptors, even if for only one season, deserves a spot on this list. LeBron James owned the Raptors throughout his time in Cleveland, crushing their playoff hopes in three straight postseasons and winning nine of 13 showdowns between 2014-18.
While LeBron left for Hollywood once Kawhi arrived in Toronto, that didn’t stop Leonard from adding to his winning record against him. Leonard’s Raptors swept the two games they had against the Lakers that year, and Kawhi went 2-2 with the Clippers against them this season.
Dating back to his days with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard has guarded LeBron as well as anyone else in the league, which was most evident in the back-to-back Spurs versus Heat Finals showdowns in 2013 and 2014.
The video of James visibly annoyed that Leonard was checking into a game will never get old, and neither will the rivalry between the two superstars.
Next: No. 2
2. DeMar DeRozan: 8-27 Regular Season, 2-12 Playoffs, 10-39 Overall
Remember what I said about the Toronto Raptors and their misfortune against LeBron James? Well, I’ll say this: if you thought Rudy Gay had it bad against LeBron, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Going into next season, DeMar DeRozan has only won 22.8 percent of his regular-season games against James and 14.2 percent of their postseason showdowns. Overall, that amounts to one win for every five times the two face each other. In his career, LeBron has only tallied more regular-season wins against five other players in the NBA, with number one being Marvin Williams (33).
Losing to LeBron James hasn’t been for lack of effort from DeMar, though. Throughout their 49 total games played, he’s averaging 21.0 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game, including some stellar playoff performances.
Even in a must-win situation in which DeMar put up a career-high 37 points down 2-0 against the Cavs in 2017, LeBron had an answer. Countering with 35 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists, James led Cleveland to a blowout victory, scoring another 35 in Game 4 to complete the sweep.
It’s no wonder DeMar once offered reporters $100 if they could find anybody to stop LeBron James.
Next: No. 1
1. The Big Three: 35-31 Regular Season, 33-15 Playoffs, 68-46 Overall
Considering they spent the majority of their NBA careers together, it’s only fair that the big three be counted as a unit when it comes to records against LeBron James. Before jumping into it, though, here’s how the three individually stack up:
Tim Duncan: 10-10 regular season, 11-5 playoffs (21-15 overall)
Manu Ginobili: 12-10 regular season, 11-5 playoffs (23-15 overall)
Tony Parker: 13-11 regular season, 11-5 playoffs (22-18 overall)
Given that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker were all with the Spurs for all three NBA Finals series against LeBron, they all share the same record of 11-5 against him. The variance in regular-season records between the three stems from Duncan’s retirement after the 2016 season.
Manu’s two additional wins give him the best winning percentage over James of the Big Three, with 60.5 percent, followed by Tim at 58.3 percent and Parker at 55 percent.
Why other all-time greats have the San Antonio Spurs to thank
With each passing season, LeBron James is passing all-time records by the handful. After leading the Lakers to the Orlando campus title, he’s now tied with Parker and Ginobili with four titles and on his way to tying Tim Duncan if he can do it again.
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What’s important about what the San Antonio Spurs did in 2007 was how they denied a 22-year-old James a title in emphatic fashion with a four-game sweep.
Can you imagine the confidence LeBron would’ve had going forward after leading a franchise all the way in just his fourth NBA season? Instead, it took James another five seasons to take home his first title. Tim Duncan knew what was coming when he talked to LeBron in the tunnel after Game 4 of those Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs have stopped LeBron from winning a title two out of three times, and their series victory early in his career may very well have prevented a couple more.
With the Big Three now gone, it might be time for the rest of the league to pick up the slack or James will begin to separate himself from other all-time greats even further.