- Series hub: Spurs vs. Heat
All the latest hot things usually turn up in Miami — clubs, music, dances, swimsuits, celebrities.
It is only fitting then that here come the Spurs. Better late than never.
The trendiness of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker is the basketball equivalent of the Grand Canyon and Gov. Chris Christie’s waistline — a long time in the making.
Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the Spurs could finally achieve the fame and across-the-board appreciation that has eluded them by beating a high-profile Heat team whose long term goal is to be, well, them. A real dynasty.
Yes, the Spurs have already won not one, not two, not three, but four championships. Yet it is this SPF-rated bid for a fifth that is at last getting them more notice than another bronze belly button on South Beach.
While it is Miami’s Bought Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh that still moves the needle on TMZ and Twitter, the Built Three of San Antonio is getting an overdue moment in the sun. It is as if that box of old clothes somebody found in their attic suddenly drew nodding approval on the runaways in Paris and Milan.
All those years when Duncan was as reliable as a metronome with his forceful low post game and nine All-NBA first team selections, he was supposed to be as exciting as oatmeal and now he gets applause as another middle-aged 37-year-old who decided it would be wise to drop 25 pounds.
All those years when Parker was regarded as merely a French affectation, a jaunty little beret that coach Gregg Popovich would occasionally rip off and stomp upon during timeouts, and now he’s suddenly being celebrated as the best point guard in the game when, in fact, he’s been performing at that level for some time.
All those years when Ginobili would throw himself regularly around NBA courts like a crash-test dummy with no regard for his own safety and now he’s earning respect for picking his spots to wreak havoc at a time when he appears held together with duct tape and glue.
For all those years, the Spurs have been accused of being dull, boring and always a ratings-killer when they showed up under the bright lights of The Finals.
Maybe so much of that had to do with the style of play that hung those four championship banners from the rafters in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. They were deliberate with their inside-out game. They played through Duncan — their would-be-forward-who-has-always-been-a-center — and did all the right things exactly the way a coach would draw them up on a blackboard.
Or maybe it had to do with a hypocritical world that spends so much time criticizing and tearing down players who do much preening as look-at-me individuals and then won’t appreciate a team that plays like a team.
Of course, the Spurs themselves don’t care what anybody thinks.
“If people think we are boring or not, or they appreciate it or not, I really, truly do not care,” said Ginobili. “I just want to do good and be the last team standing and try to win it. If it’s good or bad for somebody — not my thing. We just try to play good basketball and win.”
That good basketball and all those wins has earned San Antonio everything accept the acclamation it deserves. Another Finals win by Miami would only put the Heat halfway to San Antonio’s total before the series begins.
Dynasty is a word tossed around cheaply. A win by the Spurs would give them a rightful claim as the dynasty of the past 15 years. The Spurs’ five championships would equal the Lakers’ total during that span and give Duncan and Kobe Bryant a draw as individuals. The difference is that while Bryant won his first three with the long-gone Shaquille O’Neal, the core of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker would be up to four and counting.
Perhaps a game in which the rules have changed to open up the gates for penetrating point guard and the shift in offensive philosophy by Popovich has allowed Parker to zoom his way into the public’s consciousness with gaudy numbers like 23 points and 7.2 assists through the playoffs.
Perhaps it’s the way they move the ball as if were ticking — passing, passing, passing to find the open man and keeping defenses frantically off-balance by knocking down 3s. They share the ball, share their institutional knowledge of a well-run franchise from the ground up and share the joy of playing the game at its purest, least egocentric form.
Or it could be the kind of respect that even won over some of the critics of Muhammad Ali late in his career. Longevity and persistence eventually wears them down. These were the same Spurs who were bounced in a 4-0 sweep by the Suns in 2010, unceremoniously upset as a No. 1 seed by Memphis in the first round in 2011 and were whipsawed in four straight by OKC a year ago after taking 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
This was a team that was supposed to have been swept under the rug by now, having not appeared in The Finals since 2007. They are not glamorous like the Heat, not full of youth and potential like the Thunder, not young, strong and bullish like the Grizzlies and don’t have the overhyped Lob City cachet of the underachieving Clippers.
It might just be that nobody expected to answer the bell and see the Spurs still standing on the doorstep that made them finally so welcome.
“It didn’t matter before, it doesn’t matter now,” Duncan said. “We’re going to do the same things we’re doing. We’re excited to be here, and whether people like the way we do things or not, we’re here.”
The fact is, they’ll never be as hot as the Heat, but at last the Spurs are cool.