>> Tuesday

Todd Boyd of ESPN.com pens that the Spurs are not a "true dynasty" despite their 4 championships in nine seasons. Among his best reasons, boiled down here so you don't have to read the whole article...

"They never defended their title"
"They play boring basketball"
"They beat low-seeded teams in the playoffs and Finals."
"Dynasties have to have an image, a persona"

For now, we'll just ignore the fact that Boyd lists his credentials to make such a judgment as "professor of critical studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. His next book, "The Notorious Ph.D.'s Guide to the Super Fly '70s," will be published this month." Essentially making him as qualified to comment on professional sports as Roger Ebert.

Whether or not you think the Spurs are a dynasty (which admittedly is a very vague term), the characterization of the Spurs as a very good team that got some lucky breaks and that they can't measure up to the 1980s Lakers or 1990s Bulls is starry-eyed nostalgia gone awry.

So let's examine his basic arguments. First, he claims that the 1999 title was not legitimate because A) It was a lockout-shortened season, and B) Because they beat the 8th-seeded Knicks in the NBA Finals.

First, let's look at the shortened-season which he claims warrants an asterisk in the record books. With labor negotiations ongoing throughout the summer and fall of 1998, the season did not have a set starting point, and literally could have started at any time following a breakthrough in bargaining sessions. The season began the first week of February, only one month after the deal was struck. While I can't personally testify as to each player's offseason training regimine, I can't imagine they spent all the time they would have normally played sitting in an inner tube sipping daiquiris. It's an educated guess to say that a good number were probably keeping up with their normal fitness training, so they could be ready to go whenever the season started, just because there weren't competitive fixtures being played doesn't mean they were sitting on their asses watching Jerry Springer and eating candy corn every day.

Second, he argues that the 1999 title should not count because of the low seed of the 1999 New York Knicks. He further accentuates this argument by saying that the 1980s Celtics were not a dynasty despite going to the Finals 5 times and winning 3 titles in that decade because they beat the Houston Rockets, not the Lakers for two of their titles, and that in 1981, the Rockets were similarly a low-seeded team.

This is true, but in the end, that is kind of the point of a knockout playoff system. Pit the lower-seeded teams against the higher-seeded teams and see who comes out on top. In this case, lower seeded teams came out on top, and in a knockout playoff format, that shows that over the course of that series, the worse team was better than the higher-seeded team. Whether the results would hold over say a best-of-99 series instead of a best-of-seven is the subject for bar debates, but for the NBA's purposes, best-of-seven is enough to determine a better team. As such, regardless of the regular season records or relative talents of each side, the 1999 New York Knicks were the best the Eastern Conference had to offer at the end of the playoffs. The 1999 Spurs were the Best the Western Conference had to offer. Was it a "glamour final" that made it must-see TV? Probably not, but that was the Final that got set up. It is also worth mentioning that despite the shortened season, the Spurs finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA.

Since he never mentions it, I suppose Boyd would not want an asterisk next to the Houston Rockets 1995 title since they finished 6th in the Western Conference. The fact that they beat 3rd-seeded Utah, 2nd-seeded Phoenix, and the top-seeded Spurs and Magic en route to the title apparently means everything. But when you add up their records (regular season and playoffs), the '99 Spurs won just as many games as the '95 Rockets, and did so in 27 fewer games. But no questioning of the '95 Rockets. Then again, Boyd thinks that if Michael Jordan wasn't playing baseball, the Bulls would have won the title, and also that they would have also won the 1999 title in the shortened-season: no doubt as part of a nine-peat. A mode of thinking already addressed on this blog.

His second argument was that the Spurs are not a dynasty because they're not Made-for-TV. They play boring basketball, and don't have a team "personality" like the Bad Boys Pistons or the Showtime Lakers (either incarnation). 1.) Aside from being a COMPLETELY SUBJECTIVE characteristic, this in no way should disqualify the Spurs from consideration as one of the great teams of our time.

Perhaps in a bit of counter-trendiness, their team "theme" is that they have no theme. They're just a bunch of good players who work together as a unit and get the job done. While their theme may not be "flash" or "bad boys" or what have you, the Spurs if anything should get credit for how they've won their NBA titles. In an age of parity (24 of the NBA's 30 clubs have made the playoffs at least once in the last three seasons), the Spurs have only failed to win 50 games once in the last 10 years (That being the lockout year, where had their winning percentage held for an 82-game campaign, they would have gone 61-21).

What is even more remarkable than their sustained success is the Spurs' roster turnover. While dynasties Boyd cites like the 1990s Bulls had a solid core of players that remained relatively stable, the Spurs have won 4 championships despite being a revolving door around Tim Duncan. The 2007 Spurs had only 7 of 17 players off the 2005 title team (59% turnover). Likewise, the 2005 team likewise only had 6 of the 15 players from the 2003 title team (60% turnover) and the 2003 team had 4 of the 14 players from the 1999 title team (72% turnover).

Meanwhile, over a similar timeframe, the 1998 Chicago Bulls retained 12 of the 15 players from the 1996 championship team (20% turnover). The 1993 Bulls had 9 of 12 players from the 1991 team (25% turnover). If anything, don't call the Spurs a dynasty because they won 4 different NBA titles in 9 seasons with 4 different teams, but in the current NBA strucuture, I'd say that's more something to be noted instead of brushed aside, as it speaks to the talent of their front office, coaching staff, and team; their entire organization from top-to-bottom.

In conclusion, Boyd's assertion is based on two pillars. The first is that the Spurs cannot be considered a dynasty because they don't have a swagger, made-for-TV image, or team identity that lends itself well to wistful nostalgia. This is wholly irrelevant since it rests entirely on the subjective viewpoints of the observer.

His second thesis is that the Spurs are not a dynasty because they somehow lucked into it, or because they never repeated as champions; that they played shortened seasons or beat weaker teams in the playoffs. Aside from repeating, each of those is something that the Spurs had no control over. If Boyd is upset that the 1999 eighth-seeded Knicks made the finals, that seems something to fault the NBA for, not the Spurs. Likewise, this assertion completely discounts the fact that the Spurs essentially rebuilt their NBA Championship teams three different times, something the '90s Bulls never had to do. As for repeating, this is a poor attempt at best to discredit the Spurs, as he holds them up to the 1980s Lakers as an example of what a dynasty ought to be. However, the Lakers only repeated as NBA Champions once, between 1987 and 1988. The rest of their titles were not concurrent (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988).

Just to recap. 5 NBA Titles in 9 years = Dynasty, 4 NBA Titles in 9 years = "Very good team that doesn't deserve a dynasty tag."

Decide for yourself whether you think the Spurs are a "dynasty" or not, but it's hard to dispute that they have been one of the most astounding success stories of the league over the last 10 years.


Vinnie 9:41 PM  

Your memory of the ['98-]'99 season apparently isn't very good. A lot of guys (e.g. Shawn Kemp, Vin Baker, Glenn Rice) came back noticeably fatter after the strike. Also, I don't know the numbers, but FG% and FT% dropped fairly significantly from previous years--at least during the early stages of the season.

As for the column, I guess the guy has a point if he's arguing that dynasties are defined by a core of players and not just an organization. By that token, though, I guess he'd have to call the Bulls two seperate dynasties with Jordan and Pippen the only holdovers.

Either way, yeah, it's a dumb topic.

Mike 8:57 AM  

By the way, Vinnie, I forgot to congratulate you. The Rockets '94-'95 post passed the Beckham post as the most commented-on article in YCS history.

Vinnie 12:04 PM  

Yeah, but I'm not sure how proud I should be when half were to tell me what an idiot I am.

Zuch 12:49 PM  

Yea, but half of these people must have just watched 8 straight hours of SuperFan skits. As with anything remotely controversial, I was somewhat in the middle, but a lot of the Bulls fans totally dismissed the fact that Jordan was indeed human and not infallible. However, there two points I think that can easily be argued. MJ, despite the 55 point game, was not playing at the same level as previous seasons. Also, you don't know what the 1994-1995 roster would have looked like if MJ comes back at the start of the season/never retires, since personnel moves would have likely changed in lieu of this.

Nathan 4:35 PM  

please...just...let...this fruitless debate...DIE!

Zuch 8:00 PM  

On the contrary, I love debates like these. Despite the fact that most commenters debated it at a Meathead level, it's actually one of the best NBA hypotheticals out there, since it involves two teams playing in the same era and by the same rules and structure.

Anonymous,  4:55 AM  

About the 99 finals, there are a couple of points that need to be made. The Knicks acquired Spreewell in the off-season, so they needed to glue. There was a 50-game season, so they basically started to click at the end of the very short regular season. If that would have been an 82-game season, it's obvious they would have ended up much higher than the 8th seed. So it's not like the Spurs played against the worse in the East, they played against one of the best, one which was expected, along with Indiana and/or Miami, to reach the finals when the season began.

What hurts the Spurs in this match-up is not the fact they played no.8, but they played a team without its most important piece. Ewing was out in the finals, and he was needed more against the Spurs than against any other team in the nba, because they played with 2 centers. So without Ewing the knicks did the maximum what they could do: win 1 game. If they would have had Ewing, the finals would have been much closer, and any case made against the Spurs for wining in that situation would have been nullified.

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