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NBA Finals legacy battle: Spurs try to solidify theirs, Heat try to build one

Jun 6, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT

Tin Duncan 1999 Getty Images

When the NBA Finals tip off Thursday night legacies will be on the line.

The Miami Heat have made no bones about it since the day LeBron James and Chris Bosh said they were joining Dwyane Wade in South Beach — they want to be one of the best teams ever. But they need to hang banners to do that. Not one, not two….

The San Antonio Spurs already have a legacy of winning — four titles between 1999 and 2007. One of the best teams of its generation, led by all-time great power forward Tim Duncan and the fantastic Gregg Popovich. Yet while we give lip service to that idea, the Spurs are overshadowed because they are steady and fundamental — they don’t bring the highlights of Kobe Bryant, the drama of Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. They don’t sell themselves like Lob City. It’s not a show. They get overshadowed. Yet they just win, and you couldn’t ignore a fifth championship in 14 years.

This year’s NBA Finals isn’t just about trying to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy and having a parade. It’s about how each of these teams — and their best players — will be thought of a decade from now and beyond. Winning changes it for both.

Only one franchise has been able to repeat as champions since Michael Jordan retired — Kobe’s Lakers (once with Shaq, once without). If the Heat win a back-to-back titles by knocking off the Spurs then we can start to discuss just how good they were — three straight trips to the finals, two straight rings. (And if they can win a third, then they really reach a new level.)

LeBron will undoubtedly have two finals MVPs if the Heat win, and with that he keeps climbing the tiers up to the all-time greats.

We really should think of the Spurs as already being on those upper tiers. Tim Duncan is regularly mentioned s the greatest power forward ever to play the game. They have four rings

Yet that’s not the common perception of the Spurs — we never mention them with the legends of the game. They are so solid, so reliable, so sound that we take them for granted. We overlook them because they rely on smart passes and not alley-oops made for highlights. Television ratings suggest nobody goes out of their way to watch them, when really basketball fans should savor them. They play a smart, elegant game we will miss someday.

Instead they get ignored. But you couldn’t ignore Duncan’s fifth ring. He has to get talked about with Kobe in the “greatest of his generation” conversation.

That is what this comes down to — the chance to solidify a legacy on one side, the chance to really start building one on the other.

One of these two teams is going to take another big step into the history books in these Finals. However it ends.

  1. gmsingh - Jun 6, 2013 at 8:46 AM

    Yes, either this finals will build on a legacy or it will hit the snooze button until next year.

  2. addictedzone - Jun 6, 2013 at 8:48 AM

    The Spurs make their first trip to the Finals in 6 years.
    The Heat make their third trip to the Finals in 3 years.

    The Heat is solidifying. The Spurs are trying to rekindle.

    • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      Heat’s fourth in 8, but who’s counting.

      • azarkhan - Jun 6, 2013 at 2:12 PM

        @1972wasalongtimeago

        LeBron James and Chris Bosch were unrestricted free agents when they signed with Miami; they were not traded. Magic, Worthy, and Bird were drafted by their respective teams, the Lakers and Celtics.

        I suggest you take your own advice and “dummy up and enjoy the Finals”.

      • jt1138 - Jun 6, 2013 at 2:48 PM

        @azarkhan

        Funny how you didn’t mention Lew Alcindor, The Big O, Wilt, Nash, etc.

        But of course, it has to be about LeBron and BOSH. LBJ and CB finished out their contracts and didn’t make trouble about forcing their ways out of their original teams *cough*MELO, CP3, D-WILL, DWIGHT, ETC*cough*

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 3:07 PM

        azarkhan-

        LeBron was traded to Miami for two 1sts and two 2nds, plus a large trade exception

        Bosh was traded to Miami for two 1sts.

        Google bro. Google.

    • goodellgotohell - Jun 6, 2013 at 9:43 AM

      Heat- pitiful eastern conference, Spurs- far superior western conference

    • alildusty - Jun 6, 2013 at 9:43 AM

      are you serious?!? Spurs already created a legacy, right now they’re just trying to add a finishing touch. 11 years with Ginobli, 12 years with parker and 16 years with Duncan as your core that has NOT missed the playoffs.

      10 division titles in 16 years (starting with duncan’s rookie season), 4 championships. Just getting back to the finals again says so much about them. Think about how tough the west is compared to the east.

      P.S. i’m not even a spurs fan!

      • wyorose11 - Jun 6, 2013 at 12:21 PM

        Wow! For not being a Spurs fan you sure have the stats down!

        Spurs – Built a Legacy

        Heat – Bought a Dynasty

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 1:30 PM

        If you want to get technical, James and Bosh were actually acquired by trade; not free agency.

        Were the trades fair? Of course not . But the the trades that brought the Lakers, Celtics and Sixers Jabbar,Magic, Worthy, Pippen, Parish, McHale, DJ, Moses & Doc weren’t fair either. And the way Bird was acquired became illegal as soon as the Celtics did it; and when he became a free agent, the league changed the rules so the Celtics could keep him.

        Outraged over any of this? No? Then dummy up and enjoy the Finals.

      • 1historian - Jun 6, 2013 at 5:26 PM

        1972wasalongtimeago – There is really no such thing as an unfair trade. There are of course trades where one party gets its clock cleaned by the other party but that’s fair.

        Lebron and Bosh were not traded to Miami – they both went there as free agents.

    • jkwiq - Jun 6, 2013 at 10:14 AM

      14 straight 50 plus win seasons by the Spurs is nothing to ignore either.

      It’s like Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning and the Colts/Broncos in the regular season.

      &

      Joe Montana and Jerry Rice in Super bowls.

      Not a bad combo at all.

    • jkwiq - Jun 6, 2013 at 10:16 AM

      I’m not a Spurs fan either, but a sports junkie who respects greatness when I see it.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 10:19 AM

        For the next 10-14 days, EVERYONE north of Boca Raton is a Spurs fan. We’re used to it.

      • fanofthegame79 - Jun 6, 2013 at 1:32 PM

        1972 has the right idea. What’s worse is after the Heat beat the Spurs, everyone on this site that’s currently hanging off the Spurs’ jocks will write about how old and slow the Spurs are and how the Heat still haven’t beat a legitimate contender.

    • scmems07 - Jun 6, 2013 at 10:21 AM

      heat fans are so annoying, they really have no clue about how basketball works. “we are in the finals for 3 years in a row, we are the best!!! even though we have only won once!!” spurs have 4 titles, not may franchises have more than 2, or 1 for that matter, and heat fans think just because they make it to the finals they are a dynasty. almost as annoying as seahawk fans……well wait…..that’s a close one.

      • justfacts101 - Jun 6, 2013 at 12:28 PM

        Well first of all, yes the Heat have gone to three straight finals BUT you can’t just say “only won once” because the 3rd opportunity hasn’t resulted in a win or loss. If the Heat win then it will be 2 championships with 3 final appearances and 3 championships in 7 years. Not too shabby buddy. Let the seahawks make a superbowl appearance before you compare this Heat team with the best player in the planet in his prime to them. You can hate all you want but the Heat may win another title and you may just see them playing in June next year and the year after that. When you have Pat Riley anything is possible.

    • azarkhan - Jun 6, 2013 at 3:17 PM

      @1972wasalongtimeago

      Why, of course Wade and Bosh were traded. Just like I’m sure you were traded to the Heat for 5 #1 picks and a pint of ice cream.

    • anthonymtx - Jun 6, 2013 at 3:32 PM

      Ummmmm you forgot that the Heat bought the perfect dream team. The Spurs built theirs from the ground up over the past 16 years. They didn’t have to buy Champions. As much as i respect the game of the Heat, I’ll see your argument when the Heat accomplish that.

  3. breastfedted - Jun 6, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    Please. Lebron and the Heat are 3 titles behind Duncan and the Spurs. ESPN hyping you up 24/7 for years and assembling essentially an all-star team doesn’t automatically put you at the same level as what the Spurs have accomplished. I’m sure Stern will do everything in his power to change that though. Lebron can’t win titles unless Stern fixes everything in his favor. The most blatantly fixed league in pro sports.

  4. universalseeder305 - Jun 6, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    If the Heat play Heat basketball like they did in game 7 of the ECF the Spurs don’t stand a chance if not its up to the Spurs to capitalize and they will.
    I say Heat in 6 but either way it should be a great series!

  5. hjworton46 - Jun 6, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    For MIami to retain their title I get the feeling it has to be a short series. It’s stupid to pick against them but sometimes I am stupid. Spurs in 6.

  6. jbeagles23 - Jun 6, 2013 at 9:45 AM

    The top of the east is very comparable to the top if the west. The west isn’t that much stronger anymore

    • bucrightoff - Jun 6, 2013 at 11:28 AM

      Indiana, New York and Brooklyn (and I guess you gotta go with Chicago’s D League team who beat them) might have all lost in the first round in the West. I’d only say Indiana definitely gets through. The East is still chopped liver compared to the West, even if its stronger than the embarassing lows of a few seasons ago.

    • rtrnation - Jun 6, 2013 at 12:34 PM

      That is the dumbest comment I’ve heard in 15 years.. Spurs in 6

  7. jkwiq - Jun 6, 2013 at 10:23 AM

    Jbeagles, the west is a lot better than the east right now due to things like the Bulls team being injury plagued, the Knicks being…well the Knicks & the Celtics being old now.

    Let’s take the Grizzlies for example. They were the #3 seed in the west and won 56 games this past reg season. 56 games is better than any team in the east outside of the Heat who won 66 games which is only 8 more than the Grizzlies.

    That is also with the Heat winning 27 games in a row during a weak east conference and league this year.

    • jkwiq - Jun 6, 2013 at 10:25 AM

      I meant , “which is only TEN more than the Grizzlies”.

  8. mungman69 - Jun 6, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    This will be a great series, whoever wins. Two way different styles. I gotta watch.

  9. wyorose11 - Jun 6, 2013 at 12:23 PM

    SPURS – BUILT A LEGACY
    HEAT – BOUGHT A DYNASTY

    • justfacts101 - Jun 6, 2013 at 12:31 PM

      Let me guess your not a Heat fan.
      You’d be so mad if your team got LeBron and Bosh huh? “WHY DID WE DO THAT?? I HATE THIS TEAM NOW”!!

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 1:32 PM

        justfacts101 is quickly becoming a favorite of mine

      • zhangmaster - Jun 7, 2013 at 1:19 PM

        Judging by your fans’ late attendance and early exit, it sure seems like you guys hate this team.

    • alildusty - Jun 6, 2013 at 3:23 PM

      FYI, it’s not a dynasty yet. one loss in the finals, one win in a shortened season (not gonna put too much on it but it was shortened, just pointing it out) if they lose again….yeah just another good team.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 4:06 PM

        Spurs won in strike shortened 1999 season and that season had 50 games when the 2012 season had 66. And the Spurs only had to beat the East’s 8th seed to do it. Just pointing it out.

      • zhangmaster - Jun 7, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        And then they won 3 more titles over the next 8 years. You’re not there yet, kid.

    • miamatt - Jun 6, 2013 at 4:47 PM

      I guess my first response is, “what does it matter how a team is constructed?”, and “I didn’t realize the Spurs play for free.”

      Is building a team through the draft “better”? Maybe more traditional, but lay it out for me why it matters, I just don’t see it. The Spurs are compelled to build through drafting and developing players because they sure aren’t going to land top free agents. The Spurs play the hand they are dealt, while Miami plays theirs. Not better or worse hands. Just different.

      Now, we certainly cannot compare Miami’s legacy to the Spurs at the moment- It really has been an incredible run ever since they got Duncan. I did notice you forgot to mention how the Spurs completely tanked the season David Robinson got hurt to get the #1 pick. I guess that was step one in legacy building?

      Let’s just see what Popovich has to say on how Pat Riley built this team: “He (Riley) put together a team fairly, within the rules, that is a monster. So why wouldn’t he get credit for that?”

      Well said, Pop, well said.

      • 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        Once again. Spot on. Rational. Factual. Well written. I get too emotional. Have a great series brother.

      • txnative61 - Jun 10, 2013 at 1:22 AM

        I love Popovich quotes——he always cuts right through the BS. Asked if he is one of the game’s great innovators Pops says “Yeah, I drafted Tim Duncan, end of story!”.

  10. williebeaman - Jun 6, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Hey if you’re from Miami or have been a fan of the Heat for a while, great, congratulations on the acquisitions/collusion of Lebron and Bosh. But if you’re not from there or a long time fan, I don’t know how you can root for this team. Especially in this Finals. It’s class vs. lack of class. I’ve been defending the Spurs for years when everyone said they were boring. Top notch organization. It will be extremely tough (they are clearly underdogs), but I’m pulling for them to bring home their 5th.

    And if you want to talk about the Spurs greatness, their sustainability is most impressive. Also, if it wasn’t for Fisher’s lucky shot in 04 and Manu’s dumb foul in 06, they could be looking for their 7th right now.

  11. 1972wasalongtimeago - Jun 6, 2013 at 4:44 PM

    I can tell from these posts that after dealing with Knicks, Celtics, & Bulls fans every day for the past 3 years, Spurs fans
    are a much simpler bunch.

    Problem is that just like the Spurs fans are much different than the Knicks/Bulls/Celts fans, the actual Spurs are much different than the actual Knicks/Bulls/Celtics

    Gonna be great. Gotta get ready. Peace out

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