Spurs’ Big 3 top Showtime in stability

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

San Antonio's Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

San Antonio’s Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

SAN ANTONIO — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

For a dozen seasons, coach Gregg Popovich has been able to walk into the locker room and write those names into his lineup.

Earth, wind and fire. Like the fundamental elements, we just expect them to be there. The years have practically blended them together into one multi-syllabic name with a single identity.

TimTonyManu. Working, playing, synchronizing and simply moving on, the basketball version of a Swiss watch.

Tick, tick, tick.

In a sport where knees tear, tendons break, tempers snap and egos explode, only two other trios in NBA history have stayed bound at the hip for so long and experienced such success.

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Gregg Popovich (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

When Duncan, Parker and Ginobili take the court for tonight’s game at the AT&T Center against the Lakers (8:30, NBA TV) for their 664th game together, they’ll pass the “Showtime” Lakers trio of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper as the second-mot durable trio in NBA history. Their 490 wins currently ties L.A. Holding down the No. 1 spot is the Celtics combination of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

“Being a human, sure, one takes it for granted when you don’t stop and think about what those guys have done and how long they’ve been together and what they’ve gone through listening to me for all these years,” said Popovich. “One does have to stop and really think about what that’s meant to our program and how consistent those three guys have been. Because that doesn’t happen that often in the league. We all probably need to appreciate it more around here in San Antonio, for sure.”

When Ginobili was first learning to throw his body all over the hardwood in his hometown of Bahia Blanca, Argentina, the only way to see the high-flying act of Magic, Kareem and Coop was on snippets from highlight tapes. “We were not watching those games live,” he said. “It was not easy to watch the NBA then. You could get tapes and things like that.

“Of course, I remember. The Showtime thing — [James] Worthy flying for dunks, great defense and Magic flying to find open guys in the lane. Bryon Scott to Kareem. I never watched a full game. But I saw plenty of highlights and for sure they were an inspiration and those games against the Celtics were legendary.”

They are as disparate a trio as one might find and yet symbolic of the NBA’s globalization in the quarter-century since the Lakers were winning five championships from 1980-89. A lanky swimmer from the U.S. Virgin Islands, a Belgium-born Frenchman and an Argentinian whose games possesses all the hot passion of the native tango.

Most games played together
729 — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish (Celtics)
711 — Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, Vinnie Johnson (Pistons)
663 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper (Lakers)

663 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
632 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders (Celtics)

Most victories by an NBA trio
540 — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish (Celtics)
490 — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper (Lakers)

490 — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
468 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones (Celtics)
463 — Bill Russell, Sam Jones, Satch Sanders (Celtics)

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili won a championship in their first season together in 2003 and added another in 2005 and one in 2007.

“A great run and it feels very special,” Parker said. “I feel very blessed to play with Timmy and Manu and I feel very lucky and privileged to be named next to Magic Johnson and Kareem and Michael Cooper. I grew up watching them and never thought in my wildest dreams that my name would be next to them. It’s crazy just to think about it. Once I retire, I can look at it and enjoy it. Now I try to stay focused on the season, but it’s unbelievable.

“Growing up in France, soccer’s the main sport and they’re changing all the time. You go and buy [players] and stuff like that. In basketball, it’s a little bit harder to trade guys. But it’s still rare to have the same guys, us three for all those years, and the same coach.”

Toss in Popovich as the only coach that any of them have ever played for in the NBA and the stability and constancy of the Spurs is a little more understandable, yet it remains unprecedented. The Lakers were coached by Jack McKinney, Paul Westhead and Pat Riley during their run in the ’80s. The Celtics were led to their three championships in that decade by Bill Fitch (1981) and K.C. Jones (1984 and 1986).

“It is remarkable,” Ginobili said. “I guess we’re going to win a few more [games]. But even if you didn’t tell me about that stat, we know we are in a very unique position and situation having played together for 12 seasons with the same coach.”

Parker plays without his teammates during summers for the French national team.

“So sometimes I’m used to it,” he said. “But in a Spurs jersey, they are both gonna retire before me, so it’s definitely going to be weird. Hopefully it’s not anytime soon.”

It takes durability, compatibility, a shrewd front office plan and just plain good luck for three players of All-Star caliber to last so long together. In this era of free agency, LeBron James and Chris Bosh can choose to bolt for Miami to chase titles, Carmelo Anthony can go from Denver to New York and maybe have his sights set elsewhere this summer. Even Shaquille O’Neal, the most physically dominating player of his era, bounced to six different teams.

Then there are the debilitating injuries that this year alone have taken down Derrick Rose, Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have never seriously looked to leave San Antonio.

The once-proud Lakers team staggering into San Antonio tonight, potentially the worst team in the Western Conference this season, demonstrates how long the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili combo has endured and prospered. It’s bad enough in L.A. that the Spurs have sympathy for their long-time rivals — especially Bryant.

“It’s very odd, very unusual after so many playoff games and a very tough, great rivalry,” Ginobili said. “They’ve had so many injuries and, of course, you have two of your best players — Nash and Kobe — out for so long. I’ve never been been through anything like that. Achilles is as bad as it gets.”

Said Parker: “I don’t wish that on anybody. I wish everybody was playing. I wish D-Rose was playing. I hope [LaMarcus] Aldridge is OK. I don’t like injuries. I wish everybody was healthy and we are competing against each other.

“We definitely miss the Lakers. When the Lakers are good, it’s great for the NBA and it’s great for everybody. I love that rivalry — Spurs-Lakers. I miss that a little bit. We definitely are gonna miss Kobe (tonight) and hopefully he’ll be back 100 percent next year.”

The fundamental elements — Duncan, Parker and Ginobili — will be waiting.

56 Comments

  1. Syahrir Idris says:

    I really would like to see my beloved team win another NBA ring this year.

  2. Marcelo says:

    Tim, Tony Manu, Pop, thanks for such a incredible journey, plenty of fun, and geatness.

  3. Carlo says:

    @ SA Native:

    Don’t worry about All Star Game presence or not. I’m sure none of the Spurs (at least most of them and Pop above all) don’t give a s… about it, for they know that one week rest is more important than that pretty ridiculous catwalk made only to raise NBA popularity among those fans who just want spactacular slamdunks, etc.
    The only really competitive event in the AS W-E is the 3-pt shooting.
    Anyway, the All-Star presence (as well as the MVP title) is a bit like the Oscar for movies: maybe they go to a deserving competitor and maybe not and a lot of “average” competitors earn what is not awarded to great ones.
    At the end of the day (or years), players and teams will be remebered for the championships they won and the way they played, as well as actors and movies will be remembered for how good they were and not for having won Oscars.

  4. John Molina says:

    Die heart Spurs Fan. I would love to see Tim Tony and Manu win another championship together. Go Spurs Go

  5. Dyron from Belize says:

    Thank you for finally given my Spurs the respect and praise they deserve…. Biggest Spurs fan all the way in Belize City, Central American/Caribbean

  6. Glenn says:

    Most do not know how close San Antonio came to losing the Spurs. In the late 90s, the Spurs played their games in the Alamodome, which was not a very good venue for watching basketball. The voters in San Antonio had already turned down a referendum to help the Spurs build a new arena, and New Orleans was making a major move to get the team to move there. The ’96-’97 season started out horribly, with a host of injuries to key players. They ended up with the third worst record in the league, but won the following draft lottery and of course picked Tim Duncan #1. Two years later they won a championship (kiss my asterisk, Phil Jackson), and shortly afterwards the San Antonio voters voted yes on a new arena. If the Spurs had not won that lottery to get Tim, they probably would not have won that championship, the voters probably not have voted to build the new arena, and they would probably now be the New Orleans Spurs. OMG!

  7. kobrick says:

    its not a big 3

    duncan won a championship in 03 without a single all star on the team

    ginobili and parker werent great players until 2005

    stop overrating the help tim duncan’s had and underrating tim duncan himself

    kobes a career 40% shooter in the NBA finals and has 1 mvp

  8. Sam says:

    Die hard fan of SPURS from India!! Wish they bring home the ring this time…. #GOSPURSGO

  9. Thank you for the nice article Fran.

    There has never been a more consistent team in all of sports. And their leader Tim Duncan leads by example.
    Knowing your role and giving your best, game after game after game. This is what this team is all about.
    Pop still berates his starters even when they have a 20 point lead when they do not follow the system.

    Mark my words, if the Spurs remain healthy and get the best record and home court advantage
    after the regular season – they will finally claim the championship they missed last year.

  10. Cavin says:

    PS If you ever want to build a winning project/organization the SPURS is a great model to emulate . . .

  11. Cavin says:

    People say the BIG 3. But I’d say the BIG 4! Tim Manu Tony POP. It takes more than players to build a team that buys in to a particular philosophy of consistency, humility, hard work, discipline and sacrifice. That’s why I love the Spurs. They’re a contradiction to main-stream sport. They stand at the pinnacle of what success is all about. While it would be nice to win a next championship I believe this Spurs team will remain in the hearts of fans as an inspiring bunch who were not there just for the big moments but were able to build something special one inch at a time – Go Spurs (International)

  12. alpet says:

    I absolutely LOVE the Spurs!!!! They don’t get the respect they deserve but, they don’t care about the hype. Others don’t give them credit but, that just means, when the Spurs slide to the top, they don’t see them coming. Not only do they not get respect, I cant stand it when I hear some sports commentators actually disrespect them. For us who love them, all we have to say is; GO SPURS GO!!!!!!!

  13. Beavis says:

    they just need one more ring! (or two if we’re talking topping)

  14. Giddy -Spurs Fan from Israel says:

    Team (or is it Tim) is everything for the Spurs and they set an example how hard work’ friendship (on and of the court) and above all selflessness can makr a great Team and they should be a model for youth all around the world

  15. Jensen says:

    Die hard Spurs fan from Mauritius.. love watch them play!!

  16. Indonesian Spurs Fan says:

    Indonesian loves Spurs too!! #GoSpursGo

  17. Nacho says:

    Integridad, sacrificio, respeto, profesionalismo, deportividad, hambre de gloria, compañerismo, talento. Eso es lo que me viene a la cabeza cuando reflexiono sobre este trio, su coach y su organización. Brindo por mas Spurs y menos mercadotecnia en el deporte.

  18. fabchris says:

    Michael Jordan is the greatest player ever, but without a doubt, Tim Duncan is m favorite player of all-time, and is in his own right one of the top ten greatest players ever. I too used to dislike the SPURS and Tim Dincun when I was a teenager for being boring. The older I became, maturity taught me how incredible the SPURS were. They were dedicated, selfless, composed, and always looking to improve. As great as Coach Pop has been, that all starts with Tim Duncan. There’s a reason why the Spurs have been to the playoffs 16 (and about to be 17) years in a row now. . .IT’S TIM DUNCAN’S 17TH NBA SEASON. I live in Miami, but have been a SPURS fan for over 14 years, and have endured some of the worst losses imaginable (2004 CONF SEMIS: LAL vs SPURS game 4> “That Derek Fisher shot”; 2006 CONF SEMIS: MAVS vs SPURS game 7: “ridiculous foul by Manu at the end of the game that sent the game into OT”), but last years game 6 vs Miami was the worst loss I’ve ever experienced as a fan, or have ever seen. I personally think the SPURS are better this year, and hae more resolve than last year as a result of that loss; just look at how intense Kawhi is playing on both ends (he’s a lot tougher). Hopefully, it all concludes with the SPURS winning their 5th CHIP, in what may be Timmy’s last ride.

  19. arnel says:

    All I wish for is another championship to make up for last year. Just so to prove that basketball is still a TEAM sport and not solely for ego maniac pretenders like Kobe and Melo. ( Here’s your cue to defend your false idols guys.) From the Philippines, Go Spurs. No matter what you have proven that you’re one of the best 4 teams in basketball history. (That’s Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Spurs). All because of Timmy, Manu, Tony, and Pop.

  20. SA native says:

    It’s fantastic to see how many fans the Spurs have around the world, yet with this in mind it boggles the mind that none of the big 3 made it into the All Stars game. Yes, I know Tony & Marco were there, but Tony was not a starter as he should have been. Something is seriously wrong with the voting system when Kobe was voted in as a starter, yet he was injured and has not played very much! We love our Spurs in San Antonio and yet always feel cheated by the NBA! Always a Spurs Fan…. Go Spurs Go!

  21. Olivia says:

    It really is a shame that the NBA promotes the selfish me only slam dunk players that represent the league (Lebron, Blake Griffin etc)! Timmy, Manu & Parker are truly the best! Future Hall of Famers! There is no better beautiful basketball if you watch these three special players with the Hall of Fame Coach Pop! They are truly special and will be missed when they retire! I love them as they are so humble and loyal to the City of San Antonio and the Spurs! They represent everything that is good about basketball! Loyalty, Team and being Humble! They put their egos aside for the betterment of the team! They don’t get the credit they deserve from the media or the NBA! Truly a shame as they epitomize what the league should be about! May they win the Championship #5 this year! Go Spurs Go!

  22. Carlo says:

    I’m 54 and European and I started watching NBA in Dr.J’s era. Then there were the Showtime Lakers and Celtics and MJ and Detroit and then again a blackout in NBA b’ball availability in my country until the Spurs era.
    I’ve never been a “fan” type, i.e. I’m not into standing for a team anyway just ’cause it happens to be my city or country: that’s just a random thing, not a rational one.
    I like good play, intelligent play, good defense and tough mentality. In any sport. And I hate dirty players and selfishness.
    That’s why I’m a Spurs fan since when I could see them for the first time (in the winning finals vs NJ). I’m also currently quite in love with Bulls’ toughness. A Spurs-Bulls finals would be the perfect show to my taste. I know that the vast majority of NBA fans would hate this, deeming it “boring”. That’s why they’re fans and not coaches. Ask to any coach on the earth about what they think about Pop or Thibs. Here in Italy, NBA tv games are commented by former coaches and players. None of them is a fan but all of them are in love with Spurs’ gameplay. Belinelli considers himself the luckiset man on earth for having been coached by Thibs and now Pop. In less than two years his play has gone better and better, transforming him from a good but occasional shooter to a very consistent all-around player.

  23. Random Guyz says:

    The only true Team in NBA.. unlike others who believe that stars should merge to be a team to win.

  24. SixerBuff says:

    When I was a kid, I really disliked the Spurs for all the usual reasons (boring, they don’t dunk, their franchise player doesn’t have tattoos…), but as I grew older I began appreciating what they do and now I’m quite fond of them and respect them immensely. I hope the real BIG 3 has at least one more ring before they retire.

    • RG says:

      Tim Duncan does have a tattoo. you just can’t really see it. it’s on the back of his shoulder (the right one, I believe).

  25. JG says:

    We forget that David Robinson is a big reason why the Spurs are who they are. David epitomizes humbleness, and I truly believe he helped lay the foundation. I don’t take anything away from the Big 3, but David should get dome credit as well.

  26. Mike Ferrer says:

    Team basketball is always fun to watch rather than bunch of All Stars chasing a Ring. Go Spurs Go !!!

  27. Rohan Christian says:

    have not followed any other team apart from the spurs for the last 16 years. we in india get limited games on tv and highly disappointed with limited games of spurs. but yes pop has been great on and off the field and the trio have played as a team keeping the others on the toes and also the new generation of players the spurs are bringing in are getting used to the game of the trio and are following their footsteps. tiago, green, kwahi are the future stars in making. hope you guys get the ring this time. :)

  28. jrwnd says:

    best team ever! Spurs!

  29. Random guy says:

    OKC vs Spurs in WCF… OKC win :)

  30. six says:

    another great season for the spurs despite the slowing down of the trio, they are still on top of the western conference. im an okc fan but spurs displayed greatness and consistency since i started following nba.

  31. Mleh says:

    that’s a great article Fran
    they will be Hall of Famers

  32. ricz says:

    Spurs the only good/consistent team for the past 10 years

  33. I’m from the PHILIPPINES and i’m a DIE HARD SPURS FAN!!!! Go Timmy, Tony, Manu. Go Spurs Go! Let’s get that fifth ring this year. :-)

  34. karim khansa says:

    i have been following the spurs for 16 years now (most of my life) and not once have they had a losing season because of the efforta of those 3 guys. they inspired me to love the game of basketball and to value loyalty, hustle, and sacrifice for a greater cause.
    they deserve all the respect in the world.

  35. Pablo says:

    Best power forward ever and best international player ever.

  36. db says:

    Spur Guy summed it truthfully. Humility. For NBA purists, the Spurs are the sublime team of this era as the numbers reflect, and a major factor is the humility of these three great young men as displayed publicly. Kawhi seem to be cut from the same cloth.

    I suspect that this humility is congruent of their characteristics, and will lead to each of them making major, positive contributions to peoples lives before throughout their lifetimes well beyond basketball.

    I further suspect Coach Pop to be the main villain and architect behind all this, violating his contract by sneaking in excellent life lessons into his coaching curriculum that he’s subjecting innocent young men to. Well the evidence is out in public now, Coach… You are running against the trend….you’ve already been called on the carpet for acting for the welfare of your players… Watch Out!!!

  37. Leutario says:

    Thanks Manu, Tony, Tim and Pop for all these years, the dream of another ring, another championship is still alive: From Buenos Aires, Argentina

  38. LAL #TankSquad says:

    spurs are one of the few teams that ACTUALLY plays good basketball

  39. Unkle Daddy says:

    And those Ol’ dogs will be right there in the western conference finals, and I will be cheering for all I’m worth. Eyes on the prize gentleman, we need one more.

  40. Curtis says:

    I love watching the spurs play. Friends of mine will always say how boring it is. But they follow the Knicks , a team I try to watch occasionally but find it hard when they play as anything but a team to me. Pops got the best plays, should be coach of the year but probably won’t .oh yeh I watch the spurs from 9,000 miles out of Texas, in Australia( have done so for 20 years). Heading over in a few weeks to see the Texas games in April though. Can’t wait to see these living legends play again especially in San Antonio where I haven’t been before.

  41. Richard says:

    What a wonderful trio. Best power forward ever, best international player ever ( Manu), one of the best point guard. Not just that, best winning percentage in all mayor sports. It’s so difficult and easy to be bias by other players ( Lebron, Kobe ) from this era that play any better attractive way. Timmy, might not have same numerical number as those, but winning statatistics are way higher. He did not leave his team to win ( Lebron), nor have Shaquille. Young Lebron vs old Timmy, and it was a miracle that you Lebron won. Young Lebron vs still ok Timmy , 4-0, by double digit, and Parker MVP, cause Timmy didn’t to play much minutes to easy win. I know nba has to promote what can give them money, but common, let’s be honest and realistic, we are talking about greatness. I wish we can all see these

  42. dustydreamnz says:

    I’m a big Spurs fan in New Zealand. It’s probably helped them not getting the recognition but agree, they deserve it.
    They are great but they are also consistent, dedicated, humble and nice guys off the court.
    Possibly the greatest big 3 in team sports history?

  43. Arnold says:

    I live in Chicago and I watch the Spurs on TV and every time they visit to beat the Bulls at the United Center. :)
    I’m a Spurs big fan because they play real basketball. Just watching the ball movement and see everyone contribute to get a win is so awesome. Manu Ginobili is my favorite player. His moves really helped me a lot to score in our league (being a lefty guard as well). Timmy is the best big man I know and the most humble NBA player. Parker is really awesome. I just wish he starts appreciating his fans by giving some autographs. He never did an autograph every time they visit United Center.

  44. danilovboas says:

    1 more season, and they will be #1 of all, most games played and most victories. They never win less than 50 victories in a season. They have 1 1/2 seasons togheter to win all milestones.

  45. Ced says:

    People who know good basketball will watch the Spurs it does not matter if they are in Texas are not. They don ‘t even have players who have big time names that’ why people don’t watch them. You all think that you need a player to dunk every time down the floor you don’t need that. Winning is what you need and that what they do. Every year they are never pick to win anything. Check and see who has the best winning percentage in the last 20 years. Go Spurs Go !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  46. Spur Guy says:

    One very important attribute that you failed to mention. It takes a great deal of humility to keep a trio as talented as they are for that many years. Each one of them starting with Timmy consistently put the interest of the team above themselves. All three could have very well bene consistently mentioned as top scorers on any team and voted all star every year they have been on the league. They still get seldom recognized by the media.

  47. Carl Bennett says:

    The drive for 5 continues.

  48. Bucks4Life says:

    The Spurs are the modern basketball dynasty. But they don’t get as much credit where credit is due.

  49. Isaac says:

    The best Trio in the NBA. Nobody outside Texas really watches the Spurs, so its hard for people to justify greatness when they can’t see it

    • Steve says:

      =]..i watch the spurs and i love their team basketball, and i am not from texas..;)

    • Myriam says:

      Some of us in Puerto Rico watch the Spurs for decades. We love them, specially the Caribbean Dearest, Tim Duncan. They are so diverse and inclusive!

  50. just another random guy says:

    man, it’s really awful to see or hear them always under the radar
    but it suits them best because they are humble. after all those years,
    especially last year, get that 5th timmy.