It all began in the mid-to-late 1990s. On 10 December, 1996, after starting the season 3-15, the San Antonio Spurs replaced Head Coach Bob Hill with Gregg Popovich. With superstar David Robinson playing only six games all year because of a back injury, the Spurs finished their first season with Popovich with a 20-62 record, the third worst in the league. This helped them get the first pick of the 1997 NBA Draft, and the Spurs famously picked power forward/center Tim Duncan from Wake Forest.
June 25, 1997: The Day that the Era of Pop (Gregg Popovich) and Timmy (Tim Duncan) began.
May 7, 2012: Nearly 15 years later, Pop and Timmy, who are still together, move on to the second round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs after sweeping the Jazz. The Spurs finished the regular season tied for the best record in the league and Popovich won Coach of the Year for his efforts. While Duncan has been slightly slowed by age and Ginobili has been slowed by injuries, Tony Parker has been brilliant. The supporting cast of Danny Green, Gary Neal, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard, and Stephen Jackson have also stepped up. As a result, the Spurs are once again one of the favourites to win the NBA title.
In between, over the course of the past nearly 15 years, the Pop & Timmy Spurs have won four NBA championships, nine Division titles, and finished as the best team in the West six times. The era has earned Popovich two Coach of the Year awards. It has earned Duncan two MVP awards, three Finals MVP awards, a Rookie of the Year award, and 13 All-Star selections.
In the NBA, teams are labeled as a ‘dynasty’ if they win several championships in the course of a few years. The Chicago Bulls dynasty lasted for the better half of the 1990s. The Lakers were a dynasty from 2000-2002. The Celtics were the most feared Dynasty ever in the late 1950s and 1960s, as they won eight consecutive titles and 11 in 13 seasons.
The Pop & Timmy Spurs – who won four titles between 1999-2007 – have a chance to do what no coach-and-player partnership has done before: win an NBA trophy 13 years apart with the same team.
No NBA team since the great Boston Celtics squads (1956-57 – 1968-69) have done this. The Celtics won an unbelievable 9 titles in the first 10 years of that period with two names who are now part of basketball lore – coach Red Auerbach and center Bill Russell. They won two more championships with Russell leading the team as Player-Coach.
The 1998-99 – 2011-12 Spurs have the chance of winning their fifth title in a similar stretch with two names that will become basketball lore of the future – coach Gregg Popovich and forward/center Tim Duncan.
The Pop & Timmy Spurs aren’t just a Dynasty. They’re an Era. For over a decade, this team has dominated NBA basketball. A flux of supporting players, assistant coaches, and rivals have come and gone. Their teams have featured David Robinson, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliot, Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. They have gone against the Shaq & Kobe Lakers, the stacked Trail Blazers teams of the early 2000s, Allan Houstan and Latrell Sprewell’s Knicks, Nowitzki and the Mavericks, Jason Kidd’s Nets, Nash and Amar’e’s Suns, the golden era Pistons team, LeBron’s Cavaliers, and Kobe and Gasol’s Lakers. Most of the teams they faced have since changed drastically, but Duncan and Popovich have remained in San Antonio, and they have kept winning. Since Duncan’s rookie year, the Spurs have won an average of 70.3 percent of all their regular season games. Only in his first season in-charge did Popovich miss the playoffs; Tim Duncan has been in the postseason every year of his career.
Only Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and the Lakers can claim to have such a command in the last decade or so over the NBA. The combo of Jackson and Kobe Bryant (and Derek Fisher) won three championships and got to four finals between 2000-2004, and on Jackson’s return to the squad after a short sabbatical, another two titles and three Finals from 2008-2010. Although they won more championships, they weren’t as consistently unstoppable year-in and year-out in this era like Pop & Timmy’s Spurs have been.
The NBA is a league where fortunes change year after year. Every few years, a new set of teams rise to the top while others fall from greatness. It takes luck in the draft, free agency, trades, the correct coaching changes, and the right chemistry to make a team a contender, and nearly every great team is forced to rebuild after a few years of enjoying elite status. In the last 14 years, only the Spurs and later the Mavericks – led by Nowitzki – can claim to have remained contenders in every season, but the Spurs won three more championships in this same period than the Mavs did.
Maybe the Spurs keep winning because Popovich and Duncan simply don’t remember how to lose anymore.
So what happens now? The Spurs are once again where they were in 1999. Best team in the league, and one of the top contenders to win a championship. Popovich is still one of the top coach in the league. And even though Duncan has only been a slow and steady force (15 points and 10 rebounds a game), few would bet against him from turning back the clock deeper into the playoffs.
Do Pop & Timmy have one last championship run left in them to add to their legacy?