When the San Antonio Spurs beat the Miami Heat 104-87 on Sunday to take the NBA title, the team’s celebration included much more than the traditional yelling and self-adulation.
With soft smiles, players and coaches hugged. Spurs owner Peter Holt thanked his wife of more than 30 years, Julianna, who is known as the “team mom.” “I love ya, Doll,” Holt said. Kawhi Leonard, honored as the series’ most valuable player, quietly approached coach Gregg Popovich and said, “Thanks for pushing me.”
That dynamic defined the Spurs long before they finished off Miami in five games. Although they haven’t won a title in seven years, the Spurs have five to their credit since 1999. They have redefined the word “dynasty,” said NBA analyst Ric Bucher. And they win the right way.
“The humility and integrity off the floor is something to behold,” former coach and ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. The Spurs came mere seconds from a championship last year before Miami pulled a stunning comeback. That painful conclusion powered the Spurs to a league-best 62-win season and a rematch with Miami. “It makes last year OK,” said team leader Tim Duncan, who withdrew from reporters for a long, wordless embrace with his children.
San Antonio is considered a small-market team, and its sustained success stands in stark contrast to the strategy of teams like the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers, which focus on superstars rather than longevity and loyalty. Duncan certainly doesn’t play for money anymore—he’s making about $10 million this season, a significant sum in the real world but well below market value by NBA standards—and has always seemed a reluctant superstar.
And in San Antonio, there’s always room for someone else to enjoy the spotlight. When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced 22-year-old Leonard as the MVP, his teammates mobbed him while Popovich roared with laughter.
“Obviously, we ran up against a better team this year,” said Miami star Lebron James, whose team lost its chance at a third straight title.
How much longer the Spurs’ dominance can last isn’t certain. Analysts have been speculating for years that Duncan would retire, but the team has stayed together and it keeps on winning. “I know he’s got one more year on his contract, and he loves being with us, loves playing basketball,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said. “Either way, whatever he decides, I’ll support him. But if I have to choose, obviously, I would love him to keep going. I love playing with him.”
By playing together and focusing on teamwork, the Spurs created a dominating defense and an NBA finals record for offense, shooting 52.8 percent. “I’ve never been more proud of a team nor have I ever gotten so much satisfaction from a season in all the years I have been coaching,” Popovich told his players after the game.