Sports teams and entire leagues tend to mimic recent success, which is why you see so many NFL teams keeping a close eye on Eagles coach Chip Kelly and his unorthodox way of running a professional football team.
It also makes you wonder: Could the NBA become a league where teamwork and unselfish, smart play become the norm?
Probably not, but the San Antonio Spurs at least give us hope after they dominated the on-paper-superior Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. All of those South Beach super stars couldn’t beat a team that always made the extra pass and always seemed to be in the right spot at the right time.
It would have been fun to see the series go more than five games and the NBA and television networks aren’t happy they couldn’t go down to the final seconds of the final game like they did last year, when the Heat beat the Spurs in seven games.
This series had all of the subplots you could want: A rematch of a thrilling final series, the best player on the planet (LeBron James) and a marked contrast in styles — Miami is a flashy city and the Heat is a flashy team, whereas San Antonio is a low-keyed city and so are the Spurs.
Since I’m old school – which really just means that I’m old – I was pulling for the Spurs, but I didn’t think they’d win. The Heat seemed destined for a third straight title and the Spurs were a little older and a little slower and, as we all know, even the best and most successful athletes in the world eventually lose to Father Time.
However, the Spurs were also a little smarter. Coach Gregg Popovich made sure his older stars got plenty of rest during the season and his rotation was 10 deep. That strategy paid off in two ways. It made sure that the Spurs’ Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were playing with fresh legs and alert minds in the playoffs, and the bench players and role players who got those extra minutes got invaluable experience and confidence. That included Danny Green, Boris Diaw and Kawhi Leonard, who scored 29 points in the championship game and was voted as the NBA Finals MVP.
But the real MVP was Popovich, who selected team-oriented players and then gave them a system and a purpose. When you have that unselfish, no-nonsense attitude at the top, the others have no choice but to fall in line. The Spurs certainly proved that they have the best team in the NBA even though they didn’t have a single scorer in the Top 10. For that matter, they didn’t even have a single scorer in the Top 20 – Parker led the way for San Antonio with 17.4 points per game, which was 26th in the NBA.
The Spurs have had one other constant on their five championship teams – Duncan, the future Hall-of-Famer who almost went to Delaware State instead of Wake Forest. Duncan is from the U.S. Virgin Islands and wasn’t highly-recruited by American colleges at first. He has a cousin who went to Delaware State, so he seriously considered playing for the Hornets, but then Wake Forest of the powerful Atlantic Coast Conference swooped in and the rest is history, as well as a little geography.
Anyhow, Duncan is still a force on the floor at age 38, but it’s his off-the-court leadership that has meant so much for so long. If the Spurs sign some journeyman player to a 10-day contract, Duncan is the first one to welcome him to the team and invite him out to dinner. Imagine being some scared rookie and having one of the greatest players in the history of the game say “Hey, after practice let’s grab a bite to eat and talk.’’-
Of course, not every team can have a Tim Duncan, but every team could play the game the way the Spurs do. Maybe now, at least some of them will.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.