Mike Ashcraft, From Downtown

Counting out Spurs would not be wise

I am here today to defend a team that is ridiculously good, and has been so since 1999.

Yet they never seem to attract the attention that other “top-flight” National Basketball Association franchises do.

I am talking about the San Antonio Spurs, the team that has captured three NBA titles in the past seven years. Ever heard of them?

Of course you have. But, it is amazing to me how little the Spurs are recognized for how great a team they are.

Respect is an issue that is raised throughout professional locker rooms all over the sports landscape in America. Nobody is ever getting enough respect. And many teams will let you hear about it. Trust me, I’m from Pittsburgh, and the National Football League’s Steelers could never seem to get enough respect. Just ask Joey Porter (or do not ask him, if you hate headaches).

But if there is one pro sports team that truly deserves to pound it’s collective fists on a table and demand a little r-e-s-p-e-c-t, it is the Spurs.

As I leafed through the preseason publications prior to this season tipping off, I was amazed, but not surprised, to see that none of the “experts” had really given the Spurs much consideration to win the title.

Hello? I saw picks such as the Dallas Mavericks, who are famous for their epic playoff collapses (i.e. last year’s NBA Finals), an ailing Miami Heat squad that seems content with enjoying last season’s championship, and even the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team, that, despite currently owning the best record in the Eastern Conference, would only

be the sixth-seeded club in the West.

Sorry, Clevelanders, but your team just is not good enough (or deep enough) to hang with the big boys. Many clubs rely completely on a superstar to carry their squads offensively, and that can be a double-edged sword. Denver’s Carmelo

Anthony, the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, the Heat’s Dwayne Wade and the Cavs’ James are all among the top 10 in scoring.

But, just take the case of Anthony. After being the main culprit in an uncalled for brawl at the tail end of a 123-100 victory over the New York Knicks on Dec. 16, ‘Melo has been serving a 15-game suspension. Since that time, the Nuggets have dropped eight of their last 12.

The main threat on the offensive end for the Spurs is forward/center Tim Duncan. The two-time league Most Valuable Player is averaging 19.9 points per game. Not too shabby. But, he’s also getting a lot of help from his teammates. Guard Tony Parker is putting up 19.7 points night after night, and his backcourt mate, Manu Ginobili, is adding 16.2. This team has a balance that few others in the NBA have.

Though he is a dominant player in the post, can shoot the rock from long-range, and plays a mean style of defense, Duncan is not the be-all, end-all of the Spurs. If he were to miss some time due to injury, San Antonio could get along and win games without him. No question, he is one of the best players in the league, but Duncan

accepts and understands that he is just a cog, along with his teammates, in the Spurs’ winning machine.

Duncan, who is an All-Star caliber player year after year, could easily whine and pout about not scoring more. But that is not how he or the Spurs operate, and it is very refreshing in the “me-first” culture of the league.

The club’s official slogan for this season is, “Team Is Everything,” and that is a concept that nobody understands more than Duncan. When the team won it’s first title in 1999, it took the efforts of players such as David Robinson, Avery Johnson and Mario Ellie, as well as Duncan, to reach the ultimate goal.

The same goes for San Antonio’s championship squads in ’03 and ’05 with Ginobili, Parker, and Robert Horry. Part of the reason for this camaraderie that the team enjoys is due to Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich.

I have yet to see Duncan lash out about coaching, teammates, or money throughout his nine-year career. He does not lose his composure or get a big head like the Anthony’s of the NBA. He is not a distraction off the court, either. I have yet to hear his name be associated with the police blotter or character issues off the court. He is a nice guy. He is kind of boring. Why does boring have to be a bad thing in the NBA?

This man should be the face of the league.

Which brings me to Popovich, perhaps the league’s least recognized coach. His players have bought into his system of a team-first concept, which is something he should be applauded for. Just ask Phil Jackson or George Karl how easy that is.

Popovich understands the kind of personnel that will be conducive to what his team is trying to accomplish. “Pops” goes after high-character, high-energy guys who will consistently give solid efforts. He led San Antonio to a 69-13 mark last season, the best in franchise history. He is also excellent at keeping his team hungry.

The Spurs are still stewing over their Western Conference semifinals series loss,

four games to three, to the Mavericks. The bottom line is, the Spurs will not get the attention of the media and fans across the league. That will go to the sexy teams like

the Mavs and Cavs.

They will not talk a good game. They will just quietly go about their business and reach the postseason.

But, when it is all said and done in June, do not be shocked if the Spurs make a lot of noise by hoisting their fourth Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The Spurs prove that actions speak louder than words.

Mike Ashcraft

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