15-straight 50 or more win seasons, four championships and possibly the greatest basketball coach to ever live. No, we are not talking about the great Lakers or Celtics franchises; we are talking about the most underrated team in the history of sport, the San Antonio Spurs.
It can be argued that Gregg Popovich was blessed by having two of the most dominant big men (Tim Duncan and David Robinson) in NBA history get drafted to the Spurs, but at the same time, 15 straight seasons of 50 or more wins does not happen by accident. In the 1998-99 season, which became the Spurs first championship season, the team never had a dominant point guard or a flashy scorer, but instead they had two big men in Robinson and Duncan who could finish. Not only did they have those two big men, but they also had a coach in Popovich that knew had to use every player to their best abilities.
This coaching trend continued when Robinson grew older because Popovich knows how to use his players so well. In the 2002-03 playoffs, Robinson only averaged 7.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game, but per 36 minutes, his averages skyrocketed to 12.0 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Since Robinson was 37-years old at the time, Popovich was wise enough to play Robinson the perfect amount of minutes needed and knew that if he played him one minute more, it could cost his team a win. Some coaches would want their ‘franchise’ player and future hall of fame centre out there in all situations because they deserved it, but Popovich is the king of rest and is so brilliant when it comes to player management.
With two NBA rings in just six seasons as a coach, Popovich was becoming recognized as one of the best coaches in the league, even if nobody continued to watch a Spurs game. The Spurs play a defensively sound game and flavour it with a boring pick n’ roll offence that fans don’t appreciate because they would much rather watch a 2014 Clippers vs. 2007 Phoenix Suns ‘run and gun’ style of game. However, even as the team continued to win championships, the hype was never about the Spurs.
Year after year, it’s just been, “Wow, the Spurs won again eh? How the hell did that happen?” After the 02-03 championship, the Spurs won again in 04-05, then again in 06-07. The championships were becoming so nonchalant, that even a sweep over King James and the Cavs didn’t draw much attention. According to ESPN, that series garnered a record-low 6.2 television rating.
The Spurs are the most successful basketball franchise since 1998, hands down. Sure the Lakers have one more championship, but they’ve missed the playoffs twice (the Spurs haven’t), and only have nine 50-plus win seasons since 1999, compared to San Antonio’s 15.
The Spurs should have won their fifth NBA ring last season, except the team that is more fundamentally sound than everyone else in the league could not secure a late game rebound. Maybe it was bad luck, or maybe it was just LeBron’s payback to the Finals sweep back in ’07. Either way, the Spurs have a legitimate chance at winning the Conference and heading back to the Finals again, and by the way it looks it could easily be a repeat NBA Finals of last season. However, if the world shapes towards that repeat finals, expect “The Big Fundamental” to get that rebound and retire as a five-time champion.
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