For sports fans, when your team wins a championship, it means the whole world.
For San Antonio Spurs fans, that feeling of elation, pride, gratification, and pure happiness has occurred on five separate occasions. No matter what those feelings have occurred, but sometimes it just means a little bit more when the Larry O’Brien is hoisted.
Which championships meant just a little bit more? There seems to be a tie at the top.
1999: The first championship a team, or entire city for that matter, wins is truly something special. The city hadn’t felt that special kind of feeling, so feeling it for that first time ranks the 1999 title pretty high on a meaningful level. The season was shortened due to lockout, but the rest was magical.
The Moment: The magic reached its peak during the Memorial Day Miracle, one of the greatest moments in playoff history. Sean Elliott, soon to undergo a kidney transplant, snatched the inbound pass from Mario Elie, after nearly being stolen, and arched a three over Rasheed Wallace’s outstretched arms, with his heels on tip-toeing over the sideline, and buried the Trail Blazer’s spirits and 18 point third quarter lead. This led to a 4-0 Western Conference Finals’ sweep.
The Storyline: More than anything, Tim Duncan emerged as a dominant force in the association. For years to come, Duncan would put a scare in opponent’s eyes. His 21 points and 11 rebounds per game (great numbers) weren’t even close to the pinnacle of his career.
The Team: The 1999 Championship team was littered with names that the entire community of San Antonio still knows. Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott, and David Robinson all have their numbers in the rafters of the AT&T Center. Malik Rose goes down as one of the all-time fan favorites. Antonio Daniels, another beloved character, is currently on the airwaves in San Antonio. Mario Elie was a playoff hero, an offseason signing that turned the tides for the Spurs. Steve Kerr later became famous for some playoff heroics. Jerome Kersey and Jaren Jackson provided veteran leadership and depth. And lastly, Tim Duncan helped David Robinson form the twin towers, one of the more dominant frontcourt duos in NBA history.
2014: The fifth title was all about redemption. After a heartbreaking defeat in 2013, which consisted of a dagger three-pointer by Ray Allen in Game 6 and a missed “bunny” as Mr. Duncan himself would describe it, in Game 7, the Spurs faced the same Miami Heat team that took away their undefeated Finals record. Redemption just made this title that much more special.
The Moment: The key moment in the 2014 NBA Playoffs came when, as funny as it sounds, the air conditioning broke. With LeBron James cramping and unable to play, the Spurs stormed to an 18-2 run en route to a 15-point victory. It’s one of those moments fans will remember for years due to its unique situation. Once the team rattled off one 15 point win, they were comfortable enough winning all their games by at least nine points.
The Team: There may not be a deeper and more team-oriented squad in the history of the NBA. While redemption was a storyline, the longevity of Tim Duncan was another huge storyline. No longer the dominant force he was back in the days, Duncan still contributed to the organization as a solid defender, scorer, and rebounder. The argument could be made that no player on the roster should have been an All-Star. However, Tony Parker did receiver the nod, and became the de facto leader of the team. After struggling the year before, Manu Ginobili returned to the Finals with a newfound youthfulness and played tremendously. While those guys were dubbed the “Big Three”, arguably the most important player on the team was the young gun Kawhi Leonard. After a sizzling performance in the Finals, Leonard became the third youngest Finals MVP of all time. Rounding out the true team atmosphere, Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Danny Green all played gigantic roles in receiving a new banner in the rafters.
2003: The Spurs second championship was the third most meaningful title. Winning his second title vaulted David Robinson into legendary status, and Tim Duncan was hitting his peak, which would last for the next few seasons
The Moment: The best moment in the Spurs title came during Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the arch-nemesis Dallas Mavericks. Down big and facing a return to San Antonio for Game 7, Gregg Popovich looked down his bench. Enter Steve Kerr. The 37-year old veteran came in and knocked down three ball after three ball. Couple with Stephen Jackson, the Spurs rattled off 23 straight points to bury the Mavericks and return to the NBA Finals.
The Storyline: By far this biggest storyline of the 2003 title run was the retirement of David Robinson. Prior to the beginning of the season, Robinson declared that this season would be his last. The team seemed to rally behind him and send him off into the sunset with Mr. Larry. Danny Ferry and Steve Kerr would also follow Robinson into retirement. This season also marked the opening of the SBC (now AT&T) Center.
The Team: 2003 featured the first title of the “Big 3 Era” with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili joining MVP Tim Duncan and David Robinson. Fan-favorite Malik Rose was still on the roster, and he was joined by veterans Steve Kerr, Danny Ferry, Kevin Willis, and Steve Smith. Bruce Bowen emerged as the defensive specialist we all know him as today, and his number currently hangs in the rafters of the AT&T Center. Stephen Jackson brought timely threes and grit to the table before departing the next offseason.
2007: 2007 gets ranked before 2005 for one reason. As the next couple seasons after 2007 unfolded, it really seemed like the Spurs championship window had closed. For Spurs fans, it seemed that 2007 was the end of the dominant Tim Duncan-era.
The Moment: The hip check. All of the title runs seem to have one defining moment that nobody forgets. As controversial as it was, it really did have a gigantic impact on the series. As Steve Nash came dribbling down the court in the waning moments of Game 4, a frustrated Robert Horry sent Nash spiraling into the scorer’s table. Horry was consequently suspended two games, but Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw also got suspended for leaving the bench area. Without them, the Suns didn’t have enough firepower to claim control of the series.
The Storyline: LeBron James had become the face of the NBA. With his stardom quickly rising, LeBron’s first trip to the NBA Finals had fans a buzz. However, after Tim Duncan and Co. dismantled and swept the Cavaliers, Duncan had one of the best quotes to cross the media world, thanking LeBron for letting the Spurs have this one and telling LeBron “this is going to be your league for a little while.” Of course, James has since won two NBA titles and four MVP awards.
The Team: Gone from the 2005 title team were Rasho and Nazr. Replacing them next to Duncan were Francisco Elson and Argentinian Fabricio Oberto. Brent Barry was knocked down the pecking order a bit for Michael Finley. Udrih was also knocked down the lineup for veteran Jacque Vaughn. Bruce Bowen remained a defensive stalwart. Obviously Tim Duncan was still around and Manu Ginobili’s efforts were rewarded with a Sixth Man of the Year Award. Tony Parker’s outstanding performance earned him Finals MVP.
2005: The middle title seemed to be one of the tougher treks to the gold. With a tough, hot Denver team, a veteran-led Seattle Sonics team, and the run-n-gun Phoenix Suns in their path, the Spurs were battle tested by the time they met their finals foe, defending champion Detroit Pistons.
The Moment: Big Shot Rob. As vital as Robert Horry had been in the Spurs finals runs, his biggest impact was felt when he single handedly took over Game 5 in Detroit. After four straight Finals blowouts, the pivotal Game 5 came down to the wire. Not scoring until the final play of the third quarter, Horry ended with 21 points, none bigger than a game-winning three in overtime. After inbounding the ball himself, Rasheed Wallace left him in an attempt to trap Manu Ginobili in the corner. Ginobili swung the ball back to the hottest player on the court and the rest is history. Rasheed Wallace, being involved in both, must have nightmares of the two biggest shots in Spurs history.
The Storyline: After suffering through .4 the year before, the Spurs were on a mission to return to glory. Manu Ginobili had emerged as a superstar in the NBA, resulting in his first All-Star appearance. After the Pistons had exploded the Lakers’ roster the year before, they were no longer a factor or roadblock in the Spurs’ path to greatness.
The Team: The trek continued for the Big 3. Joining Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili on the roster was All-NBA Defensive First Team member Bruce Bowen. Robert Horry would provide veteran leadership and late game heroics. Malik Rose became Nazr Mohammed, and he joined Rasho Nesterovic as running mates of Tim Duncan’s frontcourt. Beno Udrih backed up Tony Parker, and Brent Barry shot just as good as anybody in the league. Devin Brown, Tony Massenburg, and late season addition Glenn Robinson rounded out the roster.
Again, this is not a ranking of how good the title teams were. It’s simply how meaningful every championship run was.