When the San Antonio Spurs won their first NBA championship in 1999, I disliked them with a passion.
After they won their second NBA championship in 2003, I flat out hated them, and by the time they won their third and fourth championships in 2005 and 2007, I never wanted to watch the silver and black play basketball again.
All this vitriol didn’t stem from the fact that I am a Phoenix Suns fan — thank goodness, I’m not. Although I was rooting for the Suns during those exciting but extremely frustrating “seven seconds or less” days when the Spurs managed to break Phoenix’s collective heart by knocking the Suns out of the playoffs three out of four years.
Instead, all of the hate stemmed from the style of basketball that the Spurs played and the quality of their opponents in the NBA Finals.
In 1999, they played the eighth-seeded New York Knicks. They beat the Knicks in five games, and I couldn’t have dreamt up a more boring finals series.
In 2003, with the additions of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, the Spurs and their “big three” beat the New Jersey Nets in six but could have easily swept the Nets as New Jersey won its two games by a combined margin of three points.
Again, this was an incredibly boring series — one of the games in New Jersey didn’t even sell out — where the two biggest stars were named Kidd and Duncan instead of Bryant and O’Neal, whom the Spurs took care of in the conference semifinals. This series was so bad that it received the lowest television ratings in NBA Finals history to that point.
In 2005, the Spurs beat the Detroit Pistons, and even though it went seven games and was actually a little bit exciting, television ratings were still down substantially from the year before.
Finally, in 2007, the Spurs helped bore the nation into forgetting about the NBA Finals one last time by sweeping a young Cleveland Cavaliers team. The Cavaliers, led by a youngster named Lebron James, were clearly unprepared for the big stage, and they certainly played a role in the series receiving the worst television ratings in NBA Finals history.
Even if games three and four were both decided by one possession, we all knew who was going to win, and it was the first time in my life that I can remember not watching a single NBA Finals game.
Like so many young sports fans, I wanted high-flying, big-talking, larger-than-life ballers from big-market cities with rich histories who would entertain me every step of the way. Instead, I got incredibly humble and down-to-earth, pass-first team players from a former ABA market with no championship history.
The Spurs let their skills and their accumulating number of rings do the talking and that was, frankly, boring.
But now, in a day and age where All-Stars dictate the NBA landscape by moving to whichever city that can afford a “big three” and migrating to whichever franchise will satisfy that big three’s selfish appetites for shots and money, the Spurs slowly but surely have become a personal fan favorite for all the same reasons I used to hate them.
The Spurs represent stability, humility and, perhaps most importantly, loyalty in a game without much left. Loyalty to the city, the fans, the franchise and each other. When is the last time you heard that about a professional athlete, or a whole team of them?
It may not have made huge headlines, but in 2012, Tim Duncan, who is certainly nearing the end of his prolific career, took an unprecedented pay cut of $21 million to less than $10 million to keep the Spurs’ big three together and, boy, did it pay off.
Duncan’s unselfishness and the team’s loyalty to one another is precisely why the Spurs went to the NBA Finals in 2013 and were just a Gary Payton prayer away from winning it all.
Duncan’s unselfishness and his team’s willingness to follow his character is also the reason why the silver and black will be back in the Finals this year, but this time the Heat won’t have an answer for a team that has been playing razor-sharp basketball since March.
Spurs fans count on the team to be good year in and year out and the players and franchise have not disappointed. That has made this hater into a firm believer that there is hope for great team play in the NBA.
I’ll be rooting along as the Spurs win the championship this year, and when James leaves Miami looking for another big three, we should all remember just how lovable this Spurs team really is.
Reach the columnist at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @npmendoza