The 2013-2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs made you believe. In experience, in persistence, in togetherness, in quality depth, in pounding the rock, in the value of adhering to a strict set of organizational ideals from top-to-bottom. More than anything, these Spurs just made you believe in basketball. Not just any brand of basketball, either, but this amazing game as it was explicitly meant to be played. There’s never been anything like it, and unless they can somehow repeat it over the next couple years, there never will be again.
Since the Finals ended on Sunday night, there’s nearly been as much adulation for San Antonio as encouragement for the Miami Heat. That’s refreshing in so many ways. The Heat, like all runners-up in the league, deserve praise for winning their conference and having a chance to play for a title; that they were the first team to do so for the fourth consecutive season since the 1987 Boston Celtics only furthers the gravity of their awesome accomplishment. Any time LeBron James – who put up a cool 32.2 PER against the Spurs, by the way – receives a merely due amount of criticism, warranted or otherwise, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
Except the other side of commending Miami doesn’t ring true, no matter how much we want to believe it. The Spurs blitzed the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trailblazers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Heat to the tune of an 11.6 net rating, a number more than three points per possession better than every champion since the record-setting 2001 Los Angeles Lakers, who went 15-1 in the playoffs en route to a mind-boggling +13.5 rating of their own. Point being, San Antonio is an all-time great even though we only fully realized it in the last 10 days.
We know why – an incredible amalgam of effervescent culture, elite two-way coaching by Gregg Popovich and his staff, and a roster littered with uniquely talented players from Tim Duncan to Jeff Ayers. Nobody is debating that. It’s clear. The Spurs are one-of-a-kind.
Which makes the growing notion that the Heat, or any other team in the world, can develop San Antonio’s exceedingly rare, all-encompassing identity so far-fetched. LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh can take pay-cuts so Pat Riley can surround them with a better supporting cast. Erik Spoelstra can stress ball movement, scheme commitment, and relentless devotion to process more than he ever has. Miami can internally improve on the court and off of it, espousing new organizational ideals that ensure a vision completely aligned.
And none of it would matter because the Heat still wouldn’t be these Spurs, honed as an organization since 1998 through success, allegiance, patience, change, heartbreak, and growth that simply can’t be duplicated. It’s a disservice to San Antonio to say any differently.
But that hasn’t stopped us from thinking its possible for not just Miami, but the NBA at large. Even Manu Ginobili has bought into the narrative. Discussing his team’s heretofore unseen ability to pass the ball at yesterday’s exit interview, “El Contusione” was hopeful that style would rub off on the rest of the league:
“I think it can potentially be a game-changer,” Manu said, “for other teams that don’t have a Kobe or Durant or LeBron.”
But the Spurs have a Duncan, Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green Patty Mills, and Marco Belinelli. They have three-time Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich, first-time (but long overdue) Executive of the Year, GM R.C. Buford, and owner Peter Holt. They have the city of San Antonio. They have history, luck, ability, intelligence, experience, and love.