Welcome to the Daily NBA Fix for Sunday, June 15, the morning before the San Antonio Spurs attempt to secure the franchise’s fifth championship.
The San Antonio Spurs have gone beyond our standard definitions of sports dynasties—not just in the NBA, but in major North American sports in general.
Win or lose in the NBA Finals (and history says the Spurs will win, what with the 825 gazillion-times quoted statistic that no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals), the Spurs have written a legacy of success that is uniquely their own.
The Boston Celtics of the 1950s and 1960s are the NBA’s gold standard for dynastic brilliance, winning 11 titles in 13 years. But that was before free agency, salary caps and the Finals being broadcast in prime time.
Besides, the Spurs dynasty—with Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich—had been around longer and has had just the one coach, Popovich. The Celtics were defined by their star, Bill Russell, who was a constant during their run, but Boston had two coaches during it—Red Auerbach for the first 11 years and Russell himself, as a player-coach, for the final two.
The Minneapolis Lakers of the 1940s and 1950s won five titles in six seasons from 1949-54. They did it with a defining star, George Mikan, and a single coach, John Kundla. But they didn’t last anywhere near as long as the 17 years Duncan and Popovich have wreaked havoc on the Association.
So what about other sports?
Baseball’s greatest run was put together by the New York Yankees from 1947-64, a span during which the Yankees won 10 World Series titles and 15 American League pennants. There was one constant, Yogi Berra, but he was never the franchise’s biggest star, and that dynasty was under the direction of four different managers—Bucky Harris, Casey Stengel, Ralph Houk and Berra.
And again, there was no free agency in this era.
In baseball’s modern era, there were the Atlanta Braves from 1991-2005, who made the playoffs 14 straight times (save for the strike season in 1994), but won only one title.
And there were the Yankees from 1996-2012, who made the playoffs 16 times in 17 seasons, won four titles, but had multiple managers (Joe Torre and Joe Girardi).
Football has nothing comparable, simply because teams break down more quickly in that sport.
The Montreal Canadiens of the 1950s won six Stanley Cups in eight years, more titles than the Spurs, but a much shorter run. And, again, athletes were basically handcuffed to their teams until their teams wanted to let them go somewhere else.
No, the Spurs with Duncan and Popovich have written their own script in the modern era, a dynasty that has achieved fewer titles than the Celtics, a dynasty that has never enjoyed consecutive titles, but a dynasty, just the same.
How else does one define 950 wins and just 396 losses in 17 seasons? How else does one define a run of 16 50-victory seasons in 17 years, with that 17th season being shortened to 50 games by a lockout. The Spurs “only” won 37 games in 1998-99, an 82-game pace of 61-21.
It’s a dynasty for a new era, one that has had many interchangeable parts.
Except for the constants. Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, a player-coach tandem that will be inexorably linked.
The Daily NBA Fix will focus on the happenings around the Association, along with a look at the daily lines for those who want to drop a buck or two on a wager. But first, a minimovie of Game 4 of the NBA Finals: