1998-99 and Beyond
Entering the 1998 season, the Spurs are finally positioned to make some noise. Led by one of the best point guards in the league with Allen Iverson and one of the best players ever with Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs are finally a relevant team in the NBA. Between the Suns and Spurs, it’s pretty obvious that the next NBA champion will come from the southwest.
At this point in his career, Robinson is past his prime and the torch of the Valley of the Sun is ready to be passed to the Kidd/Kobe backcourt, but the Admiral has one last ride left in him.
The Spurs and Suns meet in the Conference Finals. Duncan and Robinson duke it out down low, and there is no love between them in this universe.
Laettner shows flashes of his college self but he is clearly not the best player on the court. He manages to hit a few big shots but they go to his head and he commits some critical turnovers.
After losing the first game, the second game is much the same. Laettner is not all there, Duncan and Robinson are a near-equal matchup still, and Iverson chops up the young Bryant. Jason Kidd forces Iverson into a trap, and he throws the ball off Kidd’s knee with only seconds left to keep the ball.
Down one, on May 31st, 1999, Laettner inbounds the ball to Sean Elliott, who nearly falls out of bounds and hits the perfect shot to tie the series. From there, the Suns are demoralized and the Spurs make their first-ever NBA Finals appearance against the Orlando Magic and Shaq.
While Shaq’s dominance overpowers Duncan’s finesse, the Spurs play a team game and capture their first-ever title in an easy five-game series. There was no suspense. The series was over before it even began, and the city of San Antonio claims their first title ever.
The Spurs in the 2000s
The San Antonio Spurs enter the 2000s as the team to beat, and Duncan and Iverson go on to have a complicated, yet successful, relationship that establishes the Silver and Black as one of the best teams in the league for the next several years.
There are feuds and battles, but also wins and rings. By passing on David Robinson, the San Antonio Spurs suffer through several years of boring basketball but manage to come out on top. It's short-lived, as the Spurs lean in heavily to the Iverson/Duncan core, but after a minor ankle injury, Iverson misses a few practices.
At a press conference, when asked about where he was, he answered the question by saying, "I'm supposed to be the franchise player and we're sitting here talking about practice. Practice? Practice! Not a game, not a game, not a game. We're talking about practice."
Gregg Popovich takes issue with the way his star presented himself, and the 1999 season appears to be the high point for the Robinson-less Spurs. Despite the smaller role the Admiral played in the aughts, his presence is dearly missed and the Spurs are never the same.