Column: Spurs' Longevity Is Unmatched
I hope you’re all aware of the history we’re seeing right before our eyes right now in the NBA playoffs, because in all seriousness this is kind of a can’t see the forest for the trees type of situation. The San Antonio Spurs are—yawn—rolling toward what could be their sixth NBA Finals appearance in 16 years, and if they are able to win it all once again it will be the fifth title for the Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan dynasty.
This week, the trio of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili just surpassed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper for the most wins by three teammates in NBA postseason history. Their Game 2 victory over the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals put the Spurs’ trio at 111 wins together, passing Showtime in the process.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 22, 2014
Think about that for a second. Then let’s dig a little deeper.
San Antonio is currently on a ride that blows all the other NBA dynasties out of the water. They’ve won at least 61 percent of their games and have made the playoffs in 17 consecutive years—including four 60-win seasons and 11 years with at least a .700 win percentage. They did it all with one coach, and they’ve won four NBA titles.
Put that into context with the league’s most noteworthy dynasties:
- The Bulls of the 1990s won six titles, but they didn’t have the longevity. Between 1988 and 1998, they had two coaches (Doug Collins before Phil Jackson) and had two seasons under a .600 winning percentage. If you cut out the 1980s and only count between their first title in 1991 and final title in 1998, that’s still a window that’s nine years shorter than the one the Spurs are currently experiencing and is tainted by Jordan’s retirement and subsequent (relatively speaking) mediocrity. But the Bulls won six titles in eight years and had two incredible back-to-back seasons of 72 and 69 wins. And they had the most identifiable athlete in professional sports history.
- The Showtime Lakers’ run began with a championship in 1980 and ended with a loss to the Bulls in the finals in 1991. That’s a 12-year stretch that included becoming one of the most iconic brands and playing styles in NBA history. Their rivalry with the Celtics is virtually unmatched, and they won five titles during that period. They went 12 straight years with at least a .659 winning percentage, and they went to eight Finals in that span. Yet their reign is still five years shorter than what the Spurs are currently experiencing. And they did it with two coaches—Paul Westhead and Pat Riley.
- The 1980s Celtics, led by Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, won three titles and were part of league supremacy during that same timeframe. Between 1980 and 1992, they won 50 games 12 times, 60 games six times and had seven seasons with at least a .720 win percentage (including winning 81.7 percent of their games in their 1986 championship season). Yet they had a 42-40 season in 1989, and their total reign of supremacy was 13 years and included four head coaches (Bill Fitch, K.C. Jones, Jimmy Rodgers and Chris Ford)
- Bill Russell’s Celtics of the 1950s and 60s are the greatest winners in NBA history. They won 11 titles, including nine straight, and were virtually untouchable with Red Auerbach and Russell working together (Russell took over for Auerbach as a player/coach in his final two seasons). Their reign included 12 straight years of a winning percentage .611 or better, and in that period of time they had seven straight seasons of winning at least 70 percent of their games and three 60-win seasons. Yet they weren’t “untouchable” before their first title in 1957, and they missed the playoffs for two seasons after Russell retired in 1970. Their reign of glory lasted 13 years, four years fewer than the Spurs.
- And the first dynasty in NBA history was the Minneapolis Lakers, led by Mr. Basketball himself, George Mikan. The Lakers were incredibly talented and successful, winning five championships in six years—their first came in 1949 and last came in 1954. Yet they only had a six-year run, although during that span they won 60 percent of their games in each year and won better than 73 percent twice. Their longevity was 11 years shorter than the Spurs’ current pace.
I’m not arguing the current Spurs are better than any of these dynasties. All four of them have more titles than San Antonio at this point, and they were crucial toward the success and advancement of the NBA in each of their respective eras. But the Spurs have quietly become team whose longevity has been unmatched, and that should be noted. They’ve been consistently coached by Popovich, they’ve been perennially successful and they haven’t had a single year during which they’ve struggled.
I mean, they won 50 games in a 66-game schedule in 2011-12.
If the Spurs win the title this year, it will give them five NBA championships during this run of excellence. It will even them with the Lakers dynasties of the 1950s and 1980s, and it will validate (as if they need it) just how dominant they’ve been during the Popovic/Duncan era. I think history will look back very, very kindly on this Spurs run, and at this point their continued dominance is beginning to gain recognition. They aren’t as sexy as Jordan’s Bulls or Magic’s Lakers, but they’ve been just as impossible to beat.
No one can argue the numbers. The Spurs’ longevity is unmatched in NBA history.
They just simply keep on winning.