This year’s NBA Finals carries more historical weight than usual.
Last year the Spurs and the Heat met in the final round and it looked like the Spurs had it all wrapped up in Game 6.
Tim Duncan failed to win his fifth ring, which would have tied him with Kobe Bryant. LeBron James won his second consecutive championship.
This year, Duncan has a chance to get revenge and get that elusive fifth ring. LeBron has the rare opportunity to win three championships in a row which hasn’t been done since the Lakers did it in the early 2000s.
In other words, shit is getting real.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the legacies involved.
The San Antonio Spurs
There are a lot of numbers out there showing just how great the Spurs have been as an organization over the years. For example, the Spurs have won four championships, which is the fourth most in league history behind the Celtics, Lakers, and Bulls. Tim Duncan was around for all four wins – well, he was way more than just “around” – and the Duncan Years have been exceptionally exceptional in a franchise that’s always been pretty prolific in quality.
Tim Duncan has been on the Spurs for seventeen years. Never missed the playoffs. The four championships came in 1999, 2003, 2005, and 2007. What else came? Six conference titles, eleven division titles, and basketball purists all over the nation.
A surprising number of people question whether the Duncan Years count as a dynasty. I think it’s because those championships were always a few years apart. There were no three-peats like the Lakers and the Bulls. The Spurs never even defended their titles successfully – in fact they never made the NBA Finals two years in a row (except for this year). The remarkable consistency they’ve shown, however, over the course of seventeen years is more than enough to qualify for a dynasty. At least in my opinion. Winning the championship this year will cement that opinion.
It’s been seven years since the Spurs won a championship. Yet here the Spurs are, with the same core group of guys, waiting to get their revenge from last year’s collapse.
Five championships would put them one behind the Bulls, who won all theirs in the 1990s thanks to that guy, Michael Jordan.
If the Spurs win, the fact that all five titles came within a span of almost two decades, along with all those playoff appearances and whatnot (in a perennially tough conference), will put the Duncan Years firmly in the conversation for one of the greatest NBA dynasties in history.
If they lose, it will certainly add to the belief that the Duncan Years were exquisite, but not dominant. People will say they were great, but not dominant.
Honestly though, maybe the Spurs don’t have much else to prove at this point.
Regardless of the outcome of this series, they’ve made their mark on history. If they lose, so be it. Greatness has its limits. Besides, winning a title in 2014 may not ease the critics very much. Sustained success is impressive. But the Spurs were never actually completely and utterly dominant over the years. That’s why people have kept writing them off for about five years now. And the Spurs kept proving them wrong… but not really.
I guess the question is: do you take points away from the Spurs for never being truly dominant over several years, or do you applaud their ability to be consistently good for almost two decades?
I’m not sure, but the Spurs are a dynasty. It’s just a matter of where they rank – one thing we know for sure is that there was never a better group in the 2000s than the San Antonio Spurs. Nobody.
You could say Tim Duncan is going after Kobe Bryant for the title of that generation’s best player. Duncan might not say it publicly and he might not even be inclined to think that way as a person. But even if it’s inadvertent, it’s still true. In terms of popularity, Kobe has definitely been on top, which has contributed to many people’s opinion that Kobe was the best player of that generation.
And Kobe certainly has the numbers and such to make it a legitimate case. But that Tim Duncan guy, though!
It’s arguable that Duncan has been better than Kobe in all sorts of different ways. More reliable. Less controversy. Better teammate. Always been the main guy on the team (even with David Robinson around for a little bit). If Duncan can win his fifth ring this series, he will have the same number as Kobe. Duncan already has more regular season MVP trophies than Kobe, although the Black Mamba should probably have more than one.
Regardless, Duncan is considered to be one of the ten greatest players in history and perhaps the greatest power forward of all-time. If he wins one last championship and retires, I don’t see how he wouldn’t finally surpass Kobe on a more public and general scale.
Kobe would be ranked lower than Duncan, which would certainly put a dent into the whole MJ comparison. How can Kobe compete with Jordan if he’s not even the best player from his era?
Besides, as Bill Simmons once said (and I’ll just paraphrase here): you take the guaranteed center over the guaranteed guard. Simmons was talking about Olajuwon being drafted by the Rockets in the draft that also featured Jordan. Basically, the Rockets made the right choice (they certainly could have done worse).
In terms of Duncan’s legacy and this series, I’m not sure the needle moves too much except for the Kobe thing. Like the Spurs, Duncan’s longevity has given him the opportunity to rack up a lot of accolades and numbers. If he wins another ring, maybe he moves up a couple of spots on the all-time greatness list. Maybe not.
If he loses, I don’t think it shakes his legacy at all – well a little, but I mean the impact should be negligible. A loss would make Duncan’s NBA Finals record 4-2. That’s still really good. And the fact that both losses came at the end of his career should be accounted for, as opposed to losing in the Finals in his prime.
Either way, there will not be a significant jump. Duncan with five rings doesn’t suddenly make him a contender for GOAT or anything. His place in history is already pretty much settled, it seems, and five rings would just make his current position in history even stronger (against future contenders for the greatness list).
Coach Gregg Popovich
Duncan and Coach Pop have a strong relationship. It’s so strong, in fact, that it’s been called “the greatest love story in sports.”
Coach Pop has guided the Spurs for a ridiculous seventeen years and has four rings to show for it. He’s already considered one of the greatest coaches and minds in the history of basketball and gets mentioned in the same sentences as Phil Jackson and Red Aurbach. He is currently fifth on the list of coaches with the most rings, behind Pat Riley and ahead of a bunch of coaches who maxed out at two rings (guys like Bill Russell and Chuck Daly).
You’re not going to believe this, but there seems to be a trend here, which is the idea that Pop’s legacy is also pretty much in place. Ring number five would tie him for fourth place on the list, which is awesome.
But let’s be honest: if the Spurs lose this series, are we going to think any less of Coach Pop?
I didn’t think so.
The Miami Heat
The Spurs are pretty much set. But the Heat’s Big Three have been together for about four years now. If they continue to stick together, they’ve got some more quality seasons in them. They’ve already made it to the Finals every year since they joined forces, which is an amazing accomplishment in its own right. They’ve won the last two titles and will be playing against the Spurs for the second straight year.
If they win, the Heat will suddenly be vaulted into rarified air. If they win, the Heat will have to enter the conversation in where they rank compared to other dynasties like the Spurs, the Bulls in the 1990s, the Lakers and Celtics in the 1980s, and more.
Just to make things concise: the Heat, LeBron, and even Coach Erik Spoelstra have more at stake here than the Spurs do. All four years, they’ve been criticized for all sorts of things. They need to win this for them to get the general public to concede, albeit begrudgingly, that history is in the making. If they lose, they’ll be 2-2 in the NBA Finals. That’s not too bad, since they made it four straight years, but a three-peat would enhance their status considerably.
The Heat may be unpopular, but a three-peat should – in theory – make all the haters be quiet.
Or, they’ll just rage even harder because they’re still inexplicably angry about “The Decision.”
Get over it!
Since the beginning, LeBron was called the next Michael Jordan. Well, here’s a chance to get closer to MJ. LeBron has a ton of accomplishments to his name already (and a ton of haters), so it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out what winning three rings in a row would do for LeBron.
He has a lot more to lose than he does to gain, however. If LeBron loses, people will be eager to tear him apart. In this era of instant social media and endless comparisons from all sorts of people (like yours truly), LeBron really can’t risk another “failure” to his name.
And like the Heat as a team, many people will still hate him even if he wins.
Anyway, we all know about LeBron. But there’s an even more interesting Heat player to discuss.
If the Heat win this series, do you realize D-Wade would have four rings? That would tie him with Duncan!
Where do you put Wade on the greatness list? Top thirty? Top twenty?
Just check out Wade’s numbers and accomplishments.
Would you take Wade or Kobe if you could take one as a rookie and build a team around him?
When are these hypothetical questions going to end?
Coach Erik Spoelstra
Depending on how you feel about Coach Spoelstra, you either think he’s just lucky because he’s got three All-Stars on his team or you think he’s a vastly underrated coach. I think he’s underrated.
Do you realize he is already tied for sixth on the list of coaches with the most championships?
That’s how difficult it is to win it all in the NBA. And Coach Spoelstra is already on the path to tie Coach Pop in the next couple of years, theoretically speaking. That’s crazy.
Because he is so underrated, I don’t think his legacy is impacted too much if he loses. In his case, he has more to gain than to lose. People would just say he got outcoached by Coach Pop if the Spurs were to win it all.
Of course, winning it all would probably not do much for him either, except for moving up the aforementioned championship list. The credit would undoubtedly go to the players, or maybe even to the Spurs, if the Spurs play poorly.
Just remember that coaching in the NBA – head coaching – is more difficult than it looks.
Hey, maybe he’ll win an NBA title before Kevin Durant!
Quick recap: the Spurs are established. They can pad their legacy, but in the end, their success will be remembered more than their failures.
For the Heat, the stakes are much higher, although public perception of them will always be biased.
As for Dwyane Wade, his place in history must suddenly be looked at if he wins ring number four, in terms of where he is compared to Kobe Bryant.
It’s gonna be a fun series.