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As we slowly approach the NBA Finals rematch between the San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat, there are many questions that will be prominent at the conclusion of this year's postseason. The one thing that won't be in question is the legacy and effect the San Antonio Spurs have had on the NBA since Gregg Popovich was hired to coach one of the most consistent, but yet forgotten teams in the league.
Long ago, the Spurs hired Gregg Popovich who was only 48 years-old at the time. The year before Coach Pop was hired, the Spurs found themselves advancing deep into the playoffs, but still couldn't cpature that elusive championship. Popovich was hired mid-season and ended the year with a 20-62 record. Many players and fans counted the Spurs as a rebuilding team after their core players struggled with age.
The Spurs weren't going anywhere, in the 1997 NBA Draft and with the #1 overall pick; they drafted their future in Tim Duncan. Duncan was a can't-miss prospect at Wake Forest and everyone knew what San Antonio was getting when they drafted him. The Spurs knew David Robinson was slowing down with father time creeping up on him. Duncan's rookie campaign was a successful one and Popovich quickly realized he can build a dynasty as long as they had Duncan.
Duncan's second season was even more successful as he led the team in points, rebounds and minutes per game; along with San Antonio's first ever championship as they defeated the New York Knicks in a shortened season due to a lockout. At this time, it appeared as if it was still David Robinson's team and Duncan was simply the help he needed to finally secure his first championship.
The passing of the torch from Robinson to Duncan was inevitable, the Spurs were trading a good big man for a great one. As Robibson began to consider retirement over the next four seasons, the Spurs made more moves for the future dynasty that they would create.
The San Antonio Spurs drafted Tony Parker with the 28th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft, he quickly became their starting point guard and Popovich's new project player. Parker was still raw when he bursted into league and many teams passed on him because they didn't see that flare. In his rookie season, Parker averaged just over 9 points per game as the Spurs lost to the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs.
The Spurs still seemed to be a player short even with all that vertan leadership they had. Manu Ginobili, the sixth man for the Spurs was drafted by the team in the 1999 draft in the second round which is one of the biggest draft steals. It wasn't until the 2003 season that Manu joined the short-handed Spurs. With the additions of Bruce Bowen and Stephen Jackson, the Spurs seemed destined for another championship. The 2003 season started off great, the new additions to the team were working well together as the Spurs had a very close team; the chemistry was great. David Robinson had announced that it would be his last ride, it was obvious since he was 37 years-old and appeared to not have much left in the tank. That one last ride by Robinson was a successful one as it ended with a championship, the Spurs defeated a really good Nets team in six games that was led by Jason Kidd. In a season where Duncan, Parker and Ginobili each averaged double digits in scoring, it seemed like an easy task for Robinson to finally pass the torch to the team's leader in Tim Duncan.
After that 2003 season, the Spurs went on to win two more NBA Titles; one in '05 and one in '07. During that span, Duncan was building his legacy as one of the best power forwards in the history of the game. Gregg Popovich was becoming one of the great coaches of the NBA with his discipline and knowledge of the game. Tony Parker was becoming a top-5 point guard in a league that is littered with great point guards, all of which have less championships than Parkers. Ginobili was becoming a strong sixth-man of the year candidate each year.
Even with all this success that the small market Spurs were experiencing, there was something more to them. The early 2000's was all about the Lakers' dynasty led by Shaquille O'neal and Kobe Bryant which are referred to many as the best duo in the history of the game. There was also Jason Kidd who led an underdog Nets team to the Finals in two straight seasons (lost both). Tracy McGrady and Allen Iverson were in their primes and lighting it up for their respective teams. Kevin Garnett was a defensive monster and socring machine. John Stockton and Reggie Miller were nearing the end of their careers, but were still prominent in the league. It was a good time for the NBA with all these prominent figures dominating the league, but San Antonio was always over looked; even when they won the championship or even when Tim Duncan won the MVP.
San Antonio is built on discipline and the team mindset. They take after their head coach who is highly respected among his peers because of his superior talent and respect for the game. They take after Duncan who is very unselfish and unlike other stars, he's a bit reserved and doesn't seem to care much for being in the spotlight at all times. They take after Tony Parker who always seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder because people still think he's an incomplete point guard. They take after their sixth man in Manu Ginobili who could have had a more fullfilling career if he had been selfish and requested to be the first-option for another team. This team is built on winning because of the character guys they have in that locker room, they don't care who scores the most or who's team it is; they care about the rings and they do it like a family.
The Spurs are the gold standard for today's game, they play the game how it should be played. They play the game similar to those great Larry Bird led Celtic teams, they play like the Magic Johnson led Laker teams. The Golden Age of the NBA when there were Jordan's Bulls or the Bad Boy Pistons, they all played the game liked they loved it and fans may never see a league that great again. This Spurs team is the last of the true 'old-school' teams, we should all appreciate it while we still can.
Nobody talks about Tim Duncan having four championships and possibly a 5th which would make him tied with the great Magic Johnson, one behind Michael Jordan and two more than Larry Bird. When it's all said and done Tim Duncan and those great fundamentally sound Spurs teams will be overlooked by the more popular players and franchises, but that's exactly how they would want it.