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A Big Three Tribute for Tim, Tony & Manu

With the Spurs victory over the Thunder on Wednesday night in the Western Conference Finals Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili became the all-time winningest trio in NBA playoff history.

Jeff Goldner

The irony in the number should be lost on no one.

Three men, from different corners of the world, became teammates in 2002 in San Antonio, Texas. Twelve years later during the 2014 NBA Playoffs the trio sets a new mark for longevity, continuity and, most importantly, sustained excellence. And in this world of salary caps and taking one's talents to greener beaches, it's hard to imagine the record set by the Spurs Big Three will ever be broken. Which makes that number even more symbolic.


Three ones, three individuals, joining together to create something that will never be duplicated. The three have won three championships together but insist they aren't yet finished, and to this point no one has risen to the challenge to prove them wrong. And while not possible, it's reassuring for Spurs fans to imagine the Big Three, the most successful trio to ever join forces, playing together in perpetuity on the hardwood inside the AT&T Center.

Please forgive Spurs fans for refusing to imagine a world where that scenario isn't possible. Their brilliance. Their creativity. Their leadership has united us as a community for twelve years and a life without the joy in watching the three is permanently blocked from our minds. Little old ladies paint their jersey numbers on their houses and on the windows of their Mercury Sables. Young children wear a #9 or a #20 or a #21 year round jersey and not much else, even in the cold. The three teammates are ingrained in our community and they are part of us.

And their reach isn't limited to the city of San Antonio. The individual strengths of each has appeal across the globe. Some are enamored with Tim's silent leadership. Some marvel at Tony's flash and glamour mixed with his unending grittiness. And some are drawn to Manu's beautiful stubbornness. His refusal to cede any ground to father-time or gravity or the simple laws of physics makes him a hero to millions.

So in thinking about how I would pay respect to these three legends I first thought of the irony in the number 111, and then realized that I could torture myself for weeks attempting to construct the perfect description of each. But doing so is just not possible. Instead, I think it would be more fitting to pay tribute to these three Spurs by highlighting some of the words I used to describe each of them throughout this 2013-2014 season.

I never intended for these stories to be included in a tribute such as this, which makes it perfect in so many ways. Having watched the Spurs operate from the inside for an entire season it's clear to me now.  It's only fitting that work I did during the winter would be subject to the intense scrutiny and heat of early summer and the NBA Playoffs. That's the Spurs way and everybody is watching now.

Just let me stretch a little bit and listen to I'm the Man on my Walkman Beats. Ok, let's go.

Lets do this.

1. The Leader: Tim Duncan.

Excerpt from: When you watch the Spurs, what do you see?

Tim Duncan is the greatest Power Forward to ever play the game, but he's gotten off to a relatively slow start this season.  Yet there he is, night in and night out, approaching the game with the enthusiasm of a kid about to start his first little dribbler's game.  When the lights go down for pre-game introductions, there's little Timmy, sprinting to the basket.  He jumps up and hangs on the rim for 10 or 15 seconds in total darkness. Then he runs over and does some hip bumps and waits for his name to be called.  In the 90 seconds before tip-off, there he is cradling the ball like it's the Christmas present he always wanted.

While sitting on the bench he and Pop will sometimes argue.  The TV cameras don't pick it up but I imagine it's little Timmy, telling the coach to relax a bit.  He'll then grab the player that just felt the wrath of Coach Pop (usually it's Jeff Ayres or Danny Green) and give them a few fake punches to the gut and rub their head.

As halftime winds down, he sits beside Pop on the sideline and they both stare at the floor in silence.  Monday night, Monty Williams succinctly explained the Spurs in three words.  But for this pair, that's three words too many.  They sit in silence for a few minutes until Pop pats Tim's leg and they both stand because it's time for Spurs to go back to work.

And when the game is over, whether he scored 2 points or 30, there's Duncan waiting for all his teammates at the end of the court.  He gives them all a backward high five or fist bump as they run past him on their way to the locker room.

And every night for a brief moment, the greatest Power Forward to ever play the game sheepishly looks around the arena soaking it all in before he puts his head down and walks off the court.  And every time I watch that routine, from his pre-game rim hanging,  until he disappears into the tunnel I see a Spur.


1. The Engine: Tony Parker.

Excerpt from: Tony Parker is a drama queen

And a rested but happy Tony Parker will be key again, even without drama or stress immediately preceding the game. When asked about Parker's performance despite lack of sleep and a bum ankle on Wednesday, Tim Duncan sighed, rolled his eyes and said "He's a drama queen. He's fine. He got plenty of sleep."

But as the laughter waned, he continued, "Coming into the game I told him, this is perfect for you. This is what he does. In situations like this where he doesn't get a lot of sleep, or it's a stressful situation, he always seems to play better. I somewhat expected it from him. He wanted to get that game really badly for his son and the situation, and it was good for us."

Tony Parker is a father, champion, Spur, and future Hall of Famer. And now add to that list of titles, drama queen.

It's a term that conjures images of divas demanding the spotlight and making outlandish demands. Handmade white M&M's in vases of crystal for the dressing room. Homes that are situated so as no structure can ever cast a shadow on any of its walls. Bedrooms filled with rugs made with live puppies to caress the diva's feet, because what could be more joyous than a room full of soft playful puppies to caress your feet?

But in this instance, Spurs fans will take Tony Parker as a drama queen without condition, and hope that he plays in all-out drama queen beast mode for the next eight weeks.


1. The Heart: Manu Ginobili.

Excerpt from: The magnificent stubbornness of Manu Ginobili

Manu is a whirling, living, breathing Euro-step, still itching to break ankles. NFL cornerbacks are in awe of Manu's short memory and his ability to line up and talk trash after metaphorically getting burned on an 80 yard out and up. Manu is the man that makes Pop want to trade him on the spot and then cook him breakfast seconds later.

Manu is the one who hears the jeers, and more importantly, the whispers in Game 4 of the 2013 NBA Finals but stubbornly ingores it all in Game 5, as 19,000 fans chant his name for much of the 2nd half en route to a crucial win. And for all the talk of the heartbreak in Game 6, many overlook the fact that Game 5 was a heart pounding surprise, thanks in large part to the stubborn Argentinian.

Manu rose like a Phoenix from the ashes in Game 5, giving Spurs fans across the globe hope. Which only made the loss in Game 6 more painful, and Timmy's slapping the floor in Game 7 more raw. But don't blame Manu for that. His stubborn refusal to allow his legacy to be defined by his failures cleared a path for Spurs fans to experience the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during that six day span in June of 2013. That's who Manu is.

Manu is a brilliant basketball mind with a body that can't always keep up these days, yet he stubbornly trudges on. Hell, even his hairline is under attack from every flank, but he pays no mind. Manu Ginobili is a stubborn frustration, and for that he will arguably always be the most beloved Spur.


So that's it. I could go on for another thousand words lavishing praise on these guys but it's pointless. They go to work everyday in search of greatness, and they do it together. Three teammates, three Spurs, the likes of which we'll never see again. Their record speaks for itself. There's nothing left to write.