The Ming, I Mean Popovich Dynasty

I grew up in Manhattan Beach, California.  I was/ am a huge Laker fan.  How awesome was it for me to see Magic throw some of the most amazing passes to the best scorer in NBA history.  Yes, I mean Kareem Adbul Jabaar.  All the talk of greatest players in NBA history and his name is always left out of the discussion, in a lot of cases even by me.  Magic being maybe the most enigmatic player I have ever seen.  Throw in a complimentary cast of Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, Mychael Thompson, Kurt Rambis, and Coach Pat Riley. Sure beats growing up a basketball fan of say, anywhere else really, SHOWTIME.
November 1991, when Magic announced that he was HIV positive, Laker fans – all basketball fans worlds’ came to a screeching halt.  Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the NFL was not the major sport.  It was Boxing, Horseracing and Baseball.  By the 90’s the NBA had taken center stage: Bird, Magic and Jordan taking the league to new heights.  Real rivalries were born through Bird laying a clothesline on Rambis; Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn just being themselves and the introduction of the “Jordan Rules”
But in a galaxy far, far away, in a “small market” of San Antonio, they were quietly about to build a giant.  Jordan was winning championships, little kids in China were making his Nike’s for 11 cents an hour, and I was buying them for $150 a pair.  We all were wondering what he was going to do next.  Spurs hired Greg Popovich in 1994 as their GM and Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.  A move no one cared about at the time but changed that franchise forever.  His first move: he traded Dennis Rodman to the Bulls for Will Purdue, knowing character mattered.  Over the next two years, Spurs went 121 – 43.  Then it happened: David Robinson, the last player in the league to record a quadruple double was out,along with Chuck Person, Vinnie Del Negro, and Sean Elliot who all had season ending injuries in the 96 – 97 season going 20 – 62, getting them the first pick in the draft, Tim Duncan!
Popvich fired then coach Bob Hill and became the coach, VP and GM of the team.  I remember thinking what a dirty move – you get the best player in college basketball, your three stars are healthy and you take that cake job.  Jordan was winning what would be his last title four games to two against Utah.  The NBA was about to face a lockout and the Spurs were about to reign.
The Lockout came and ended.  The NBA played a 50 game season that seemed like it was on hyper speed.  Teams played three games in three nights with regularity – as a fan it was amazing.  It was the NBA’s version of porn for the diehard fan.   Spurs would go 37 – 13, dominating with Duncan and Robinson anchoring the team.  It was their first trip to the finals where they would meet the 8th seed out of the east: the New York Knicks, led by Allan Houston, Latrell Spreewell and LJ with his 4 point play, Grandmama.  A bitch slap was coming.  Spurs would win their first title four games to one in the Popovich era.
So right about this time I was heading to Vegas (Just roll with the story for a second), flying that luxurious airliner Southwest Airlines from Los Angeles.  Had my copy of Sports Illustrated to read on the plane, where Duncan had just taken it to Shaq on the cover.  Again, being a diehard Laker fan, I hated that cover.  Getting on the flight after I was already on was Derek Fisher and Sean Rooks – backup point guard and center for the Lakers.  I had met a few Lakers in the past but I had to talk to these two.  If you have ever flown to Vegas you know that the walk to baggage claim may as well be a trek across Ethiopia for six grains of rice.  So I catch up to Fisher, with my S.I. in hand, asking him about the Spurs.  “What happened?  Are they really that much better than us?”  He looked at me like the assclown that I was being and gave a polite answer: “They were in this series.”  “Yea but Duncan is a bum and the Spurs, c’mon really?” (again, my “fandemonium” coming out).   He just sort of stopped and looked at me and said “Duncan is a bad man.”  I then asked him and Sean Rooks to sign my Sports Illustrated, which they did.  Looking back at it later, it did seem like a dick move on my part because I mean it’s the cover of them just being eliminated from the playoffs by the best team in the league.  After that conversation of course all I took from it was what the hell does anyone who went to Arkansas Little Rock know anyway?  Duncan, a bad man?  Yea right.  Oh and as far as the dick move, I feel good about it today knowing what we know about Derek Fisher being a pile of trash.
Back to the Spurs and Pop.  So the Lakers finally found their stride winning the next three titles as Kobe came into his own with Shaq.  Spurs though were always lurking.  Some of the best playoff series ever between the two in 2000 and 2002.  2001 Lakers just lost one game the entire playoffs.  Spurs over those three years went 169- 77, just insane.  Now it was their turn winning three titles in five years.  Duncan being the dominant force behind what was about to be the class franchise in the NBA.
Looking at a team like the Philadelphia 76ers, from the 2012 to the 2015 NBA draft they had 19 draft picks.  Seven just in the 2014 draft.  They have had the 3rd overall pick twice, 10th, 11th and 15th overall.  They drafted five centers in that time, three just in 2015.  Which by the way, in 2011 they also drafted a center named Nikola Vucevic 16th overall who they traded in a 4 team deal to get umm Andrew Bynum…oops.  Spurs are the antithesis of the 76ers.  Here are just a few of their draft picks, all again while being one of the best teams in the NBA and never in the lottery.  1999 Manu Ginobli pick 57, 2001 Tony Parker pick 28, 2002 Luis Scola pick 55, 2003 Leonardo Barbosa pick 28, 2005 Beno Udrith pick 28, 2007 Tiago splitter pick 28, 2008 George Hill pick 26, 2008 Goran Dragic, pick 45 and 2009 Dejuan Blair pick 37.  Some names better than others but all great picks at the spots.  Traded Dragic on draft day to the Suns for a bust but did trade George Hill for Kawai Leonard, one of the best all around players in the NBA.  They kept signing veteran free agents and star free agents along the way because of Pop and the culture.  For as much winning as they have done, now with LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard, they aren’t going away anytime soon.
It was a weird transition for me to go from Spurs hater because of all the battles with the Lakers, to respecting and appreciating the franchise.  Over the years I couldn’t find a reason to really hate them, other than that awesome reason of “They are just always so good.”  The character of their team could never be questioned; Tim Duncan’s wife cheated on him, so he left her.  Take that statement in for a second – while Shawn Kemp was out procreating like a gremlin; MJ was getting BJ’s at every stop on a road trip; Kobe was ahem in Colorado; 21 was just being a good dude.  Avery Johnson was preacher Johnson and Tony Parker was snuggling up to Eva Longoria.  There were no scandals.  They were a boringly awesome squad that just kept winning.  Then it became Superman vs Bizarro: Spurs vs Heat in the NBA Finals.  This for me is when I became a fan.  The team that was built vs the team that was bought.  2013 was when they lost in seven games.  Game 6 they could have closed out the series up 75 – 65 after 3.  Up three with seconds left, Lebron missed a 3, Bosh climbed to get the offensive rebound and Ray Allen tied it to send the game to OT, where the heat would win 103 – 100.  Bizarro, team bought won this series but 2014 Superman, the Spurs would face the Heat again and destroy the Heat so bad (4 games to 1) they would send Lebron crying all the way back home to Cleveland.  One of the most amazing things to me that year wasn’t just that the Spurs won the title but with a regular season record of 62 – 20 and not one player on their team averaged playing 30 minutes a game or more for the season.
To say it’s a Spurs dynasty is just too easy; the founder, the creator and architect of it all is Greg Popovich.  Game 6 of the Finals in 2013 he said numerous times “How much fun is this!”  He coaches his superstars, his role players, and his coaches.  His coaching tree has more branches on it than Red Auerbach and Phil Jackson.  He puts together quality people to scout, run daily operations and this is where Jerry Jones should take notes, he lets them do the job they are supposed to do – coaching everyone along the way.
I cheer for the Lakers still, in all their infinite sadness that they are, but in all of sports there isn’t many people like Popovich.  Someone who when asked who he was going to go see when midnight strikes for free agency he replies “I’ll be asleep, I wouldn’t want anyone to wake me up that late – why would I wake someone else up that late.”  A couple weeks later he signed LaMarcus Aldridge and David West.  This will be the year the Spurs beat a team that broke the season wins total for the season, you know in a ho hum boring way to a championship.  I mean would you expect anything less from POP!

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