On Sunday night, the San Antonio Spurs did what all other NBA teams had failed to do for the past two seasons: stop the Miami Heat from winning a championship. By preventing a three-peat, and claiming their fifth title since 1999, the Spurs have fueled a discussion about sports dynasties and the keys to long-term success.
BL: This was the second consecutive Finals matchup between the Spurs and the Heat. The Heat won last year, but this time around San Antonio dismantled LeBron James and Co. in just five games. What changed?
Miami’s supporting cast got old in a hurry. And that placed a massive burden on LeBron James. He had no one else he could really rely on. The Spurs simply had more talent, top to bottom, more depth than the Miami heat.
BL: The title came seven seasons after the Spurs’ last championship. If San Antonio had lost to Miami again, history would look back on the latter years of the partnership between coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan very differently, wouldn’t it?
HB: Maybe, but here’s the thing: They win the championship in 2007, and let’s say Tim Duncan, a couple years later, decided to call it quits. We would still look at them as a dynasty because of the sustained excellence – they’d both be going to the Hall of Fame. I don’t think it would have been that much different. But Duncan’s longevity has given us this different perception where it’s, “Oh, look how long it took to get back again.” But five championships in 15 years is incredible.
BL: In his end-of-the-season press conference yesterday, Heat President Pat Riley made some pointed remarks about his team’s future. Riley said, “This stuff is hard. And you got to stay together, if you’ve got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.” Is it safe to say he was talking to LeBron James?HB: [Laughs] It certainly sounded like he was speaking directly to LeBron James and challenging him not to flee at the first sign of trouble. This is how Pat Riley got LeBron James in 2010, because the Cleveland Cavaliers could not surround LeBron James with sufficient talent to win a championship. So what Riley is saying is, “Don’t Cleveland us,” basically.
Dwyane Wade’s not the Dwyane Wade that LeBron James hooked up with in 2010. That was the reason he went to Miami in the first place, [it] was primarily about Dwyane Wade, to have two guys who each could carry a team on a given night. Once Dwyane Wade is not that elite player anymore, LeBron is kind of back to the position he was in Cleveland. You know, “What do we have here, Pat?”
BL: Despite their success, and some young talent like Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio still has big question marks moving forward. Tim Duncan is 38. Manu Ginobli is 36. Tony Parker is 32. Can the Spurs still be the Spurs if any of those guys get injured or retire?
HB: We’ve been asking that question for at least six or seven years, and every year we write them off, and every year they make us all look like idiots. I’ve got a new policy, which is I don’t ever write off the Spurs and I’m never calling them “too old” ever again. But I think those guys are all coming back for at least one more season – that’s the indication we’re all getting – and I think we should just enjoy it as long as it lasts because they’re a lot of fun to watch.
BL: Let’s assume that you’re right about the Spurs hanging on for another year, and let’s assume that LeBron James stays where he is. Would you be happy to see another Spurs-Heat matchup in the Finals in 2015?
HB: It’s funny, because we hadn’t seen a repeat Finals since 1997-1998 when the Bulls and Jazz went at it two years in a row. I think it would be fun to see. They’re at 1-1 now, to have the rubber match would be intriguing. I’m not sure that the odds are in favor of that.