Best of (their) times, worst of (all) times
By Charley Rosen
Page 2 columnist

Now that the 2003 NBA Finals are history, the question arises: Where do the San Antonio Spurs rank in the all-time hierarchy of NBA champions?

It says here that they belong in the basement.

In reconsidering the champs of seasons past, one characteristic becomes obvious: Virtually every titlist team showcased a brace of superstars.

Lakers (2000-2002): Shaq and Kobe.

Spurs (1999): Tim Duncan, along with David Robinson still in his prime.

Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan is a great player, but his Spurs are a one-man gang.
Bulls (1991-1993,1996-1998): MJ and Scottie Pippen

Rockets (1995) Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler

Rockets (1994): Olajuwon and a cast of marginalia (Otis Thorpe, Vernon Maxwell and Kenny Smith), the solitary exception that proves the rule

Pistons (1989-90): Isiah Thomas and Joe Dumars (yes, Joe D played in six All-Star games)

Lakers (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-88): Magic and Kareem

Sixers (1983): Moses and Dr. J.

Celtics (1981, 1984, 1986): Bird and McHale. (Parish was clueless in the clutch and mostly just along for the ride.)

SuperSonics (1979): Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson

Bullets (1978): Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld

Trail Blazers (1977): Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas

How far back does this pattern go? To the beginning:

Havlicek/Cowens; Barry/Wilkes; Frazier/Monroe/DeBusschere/Reed; Chamberlain/West; Kareem/Oscar; Russell/Hondo/the Joneses/Cousy; Pettit/Hagan; Arizin/Johnston; Schayes/Seymour; Mikan/Martin/Pollard; Risen/Davies. Even all the way back to Joe Fulks/Howie Dalmar, and Kleggie Hermsen/Buddy Jeannette.

Now let's look at the latest champs.

For sure, TD is a legitimate superstar. But Tony Parker is young and therefore scatterbrained; his lack of focus and intensity leads to numerous bad decisions.

Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson's Lakers had great players throughout the lineup.
Stephen Jackson is a defensively challenged, streaky spot-shooter who's likewise mistake-prone (there's good reason why he was cut by Phoenix, Vancouver and New Jersey; and also averaged 3.8 ppg in a pair of brief stints in the CBA). Robinson sails off into the golden sunset, resplendent and glorious, yet for the past several seasons he has been slowly sinking under the relentless onslaught of Father Time.

Bruce Bowen couldn't dribble a basketball even if it was on a string. Malik Rose is a part-time warrior with unlimited heart and finite skills. Manu Ginobili is still trying to figure out how to say, "Hit the open man" in English. Speedy Claxton can scoot and shoot, but is essentially a No. 2 in a No. 1's body. Steve Kerr is the designated closer whose physical (and gravitational) limitations would become more evident with more playing time.

The problem with the Spurs is (and has been) that, because of the severe limitations of his supporting cast, Duncan has to do too much -- score, rebound, block shots, pass and be the one and only dependable motor of the team's offense.

Why then did the Spurs win the championship so handily?

Because an injury numbed Stephon Marbury's shooting arm, Amare Stoudamire was too young to go steady, and Shawn Marion couldn't hit a clutch jumper to get into heaven.

Because the Lakers were too fat, too selfish, too arrogant and too used up.

Because the Mavericks were about as substantial (at least, on D) as the latest Rucker League champs and were missing Dirk Nowitzki late in the series.

And the Nets? They lost not only because their own solitary superstar can't shoot his way out of a paper bag, but because Kenyon Martin, their erstwhile superstar-in-training, is a bogus big man. (Real players don't let anything short of a broken limb wipe them out in the Finals. Martin should have dug deep into himself and kept on digging until he found the courage to keep on trucking. Was Martin any sicker than Jordan was against Utah in the fifth game of the 1998 Finals? With all of his chest-beating and self-aggrandizing antics, K-Mart went 3-for-23 in the biggest game of his life.)

Michael Jordan
MJ's Bulls would have easily swept aside the '03 Spurs.
Let's face it -- the level of play in the NBA is sinking as fast as Iraq's GNP.

So which post-24-second champs could the current Spurs defeat? The 1955 Syracuse Nationals. The 1956 Philadelphia Warriors. And the 1958 St. Louis Hawks.

Who would sweep them in four straight? Jordan's Bulls. Magic's Lakers. The Dipper's Warriors and Lakers. The Russellian Celtics.

Jabbar's Bucks, the Doctor's playmates and Bird's flock would beat the Spurs in five. Winners in a six-game series would be The Bad Boy Pistons, Walton and the Blazers, the Cowens-Hondo editions of the Celtics and The Old Knicks.

The only series up for grabs would be against the '78 Bullets, '79 Sonics and '94 Rockets. The 1999 asterisked-Spurs would beat the current Spurs in seven overtimes in a seventh game.

Two last thoughts on the 2003 championship series:

He who chokes last, chokes worst.

And, somebody had to win, so all hail the champs!

Charley Rosen, a former coach in the Continental Basketball Association, has been intimately involved with basketball for the better part of five decades -- as a writer, a player, a coach and a passionate fan. Rosen's books include "More Than a Game," "The Cockroach Basketball League," "The Wizard of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed the Game of Basketball," "Scandals of '51: How the Gamblers Almost Killed College Basketball" and "The House of Moses All-Stars: A Novel."





BASKETBALL DIARY

ALSO SEE:


Charley Rosen Archive

NBA Playoffs coverage

NBA Finals: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Rosen: Are the Spurs getting rattled?

Rosen: How Nets can stop the Spurs

Rosen: From swamp to Alamo, with love

Rosen: San Antonio's double-clutch

Rosen: Shaq's demise

Rosen: Who's Mr. Clutch?





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