One of the best decisions I've made recently was listening to Cleveland radio on Friday afternoon. After the news broke that LeBron James would be coming back to Ohio, it was raining uncontrollable joy. I was thrilled for all the people who were calling in weeping, shouting things only Kevin Garnett would be able to interpret.
The thrill of redemption pouring out of the long-depressed Cavaliers fans was a precious reminder of why sports are so great. What else could people get so upset about that they'd light clothes on fire? What else could make someone so happy that they'd leave work and put on
burnt clothes that they haven't worn in four years and parade the city?
Spurs fans have sampled that state of utter bliss not too long ago. I know I am still enthralled by thinking about the 2013-14 Spurs. One of the best things about James' return home is that it gave our beloved Spurs another notch on their belts. The Spurs aren't just five-time champs. They aren't just the team who redeemed a collapse. They're the team who ended the Miami Heat.
Once again, they have outlasted yet another super team.
I don't want to make this about good prevailing over evil because that's not the point. The Heat (for all the things people may have disliked about them) were an excellent basketball team, led by maybe the most unselfish superstar ever - aside from Tim Duncan, of course. But the Spurs ended the run of a team that many loved, and that many loved to hate.
When the Heat got together and LeBron made the infamous "not one, not two" declaration I thought they had a great chance to pull it off. At the time, Dwyane Wade was the third-best player in the league and "not seven" didn't seem so far-fetched. I remember wondering how the team could possibly lose. Well, we found out. The offense never realized its potential, Wade's knees failed him, and an aging cast made the team far from invincible.
When the Heat got together in the summer of 2010 I expected to see beauty on a basketball court and I honestly don't think we ever got it from them. We saw great play and beautiful basketball from LeBron, but in the end it was the 2014 Spurs that gave the world the hardcourt perfection that seemed to be promised by "The Decision."
The Lakers dismantled the Spurs in 2001 and 2002, embarrassing them and causing people to question the legitimacy of the 1999 championship and Tim Duncan's MVP status. The Spurs, following their quiet leader, channeled that rage into a 28-point demolition in Game 6 of the Western Conference seminals that ended the Lakers' reign. The rounds after that were almost a formality as the Spurs played down to the injured Mavericks and the overmatched Nets. The Spurs' goal that season was ending the Lakers, beating them and getting revenge. That second ring was icing on the cake - especially for David Robinson.
They stopped the Lakers' quest at a four-peat in 2003 and ended the Lakers as the world knew them. The 2004 Lakers didn't have Horry and added both Karl Malone and Gary Payton. It was an entirely different team that needed a .4 second miracle to get back to the Finals, only to lose. Plus, shock of all shocks, Shaq and Kobe didn't murder one another that season. The Lakers were all but broken up in 2003 when Tim Duncan dominated the playoffs.
We all know the story of the Spurs quest for redemption in 2014. It played out not as a tale of bloodthirsty revenge, but a team committed to seeing to it that the little things wouldn't beat them again. It translated into play that was poetry in motion. As the buzzer sounded in Game 5 and the Spurs were champions again, I remember people were frustrated that the camera followed LeBron out of the arena and through the tunnel. But now, that moment means something.
The last time anyone will ever see LeBron James in a Heat jersey, he was ceding defeat to the superior Spurs. The Spurs championship sent the King off the court with Miami and on his way back to Cleveland. You could say that the Spurs almost freed LeBron up to do what he obviously wanted to do. If the Spurs had lost to Miami for a second straight year, and I see no way that James leaves a three-peat Heat team. Who would walk out on a chance to defend that crown, and go for four in a row?
Taking credit for ending the Lakers and Heat should almost count as a championship in itself. Hang another banner for the Spurs being Giant Slayers. Dethroners. Every fanbase in the league felt better once the Lakers were gone and every fan probably thinks their team has a chance next year because the Heat are in the grave.
It's significant that the Spurs were the ones standing over these dynasties as they fell. It shows the significance of the Spurs run. Since Michael Jordan retired from the Bulls, the Duncan & Popovich-led Spurs have maintained their place in the league. They've won 50 games every year. They've claimed five championships over 15 years. They've made six trips to the NBA Finals and nine stops in the Western Conference finals.
The Spurs of this era have outlasted the Kobe-and-Shaq Lakers, the new generation of Detroit Bad Boys, the Wade-and-Shaq Heat, the Yao-and-McGrady Rockets, the Seven Seconds or Less Suns, the Kobe-and-Pau Lakers, the Garnett, Allen and Pierce Celtics and the Big Three Heat. With Pop just signing a contract extension, it makes me wonder if the Spurs will outlast the Westbrook and Durant Thunder and Kobe Bryant's career too.
This isn't intended to skew toward trollage or boasting. I just want to relish in the fact that the Spurs have consistently outlasted teams that most of the basketball world assumed would run past the "old" Spurs. It's impressive that the Spurs have ended two championship runs and stopped an excellent Pistons team from repeating.
Old age, family feuds, injuries and the desire to go home broke up the great teams of the recent years. While the Spurs have endured it all and are still standing. I think of Tim Duncan during the postgame celebration, his giant arms outstretched. Embracing the moment. Right then, he and the Spurs were immovable. Those outstretched arms seemed to display the timeline of this amazing run of success.
The Heat, both Lakers teams, the Suns, the Celtics seem like blips on that timeline. They were here, made some noise and quickly faded. The Spurs have outlasted them all.