Understandably, the current NBA season has been all about the Golden State Warriors. When a team is on pace to set the single season records for wins and their best player is showing you things that none of us have ever seen before, it’s easy to see why that is. But the San Antonio Spurs are quietly putting together (possibly) the second best single season ever. And it’s not like it should really be a surprise… they’ve been doing it for 20 years!
David Robinson is a Hall of Fame player and was one of the dominant centres in the NBA since joining the league in 1989-90 after serving time in the Navy. All he did was average 24.3 ppg, 12 rpg, 3.9 bpg and 1.7 spg en route to winning Rookie of the Year and spots on the All NBA 3rd team and All Defensive 2nd team… as a ROOKIE!!! For the next 6 seasons he cornerstoned the small market Spurs with such stellar play that earned him his only Most Valuable Player award in 1994-95, but his teams could never overcome those in front of them. Sadly for Robinson and the Spurs they just couldn’t get over those in front of them come playoff time, with eventual Finals teams Phoenix (1993) and Houston (1995) knocking them out of title contention. Something needed to change… and it came in the most unlikely of forms.
Heading into the 1996-97 season Robinson was hampered by a bad back which held him out from playing until December 10, 1996 against the Phoenix Suns. He battled through his back pain but the worst was yet to come. On December 23, 1996 in a home loss against the Miami Heat the Spurs heart and soul suffered a season ending ankle injury… and with that went any chance of a successful season for the Spurs. They ended up with the 3rd worst record in the NBA at 20-62 but the prize all teams were looking at in the upcoming draft was Wake Forest product Tim Duncan.
And what would you know… the Spurs end up with the No. 1 pick and (surprise, surprise) pick Duncan to play along side Robinson. And the dynasty of the San Antonio Spur was born.
Duncan was the rare college player, even for the mid 90’s. He stayed at Wake Forest for 4 years before de
claring for the NBA draft. He was touted as the best player in college basketball for (at least) his junior and senior seasons so whoever owned the worst record the season prior to the ‘Duncan Draft’ was looking at a winning lottery ticket. Lucky for the Spurs they managed to sneak past the Vancouver Grizzlies and the Boston Celtics to snag the No. 1 overall pick. All that San Antonio needed now was to ensure David Robinson would recover from his broken ankle to form one of the most formidable PF/C combinations in NBA history.
Luckily for the Spurs… that’s exactly what happened.
All that happened in Duncan’s first NBA season was…
- San Antonio set the NBA record for the biggest turnaround in wins from the previous season with 36 (previous record was 35 by the Boston Celtics in Larry Bird’s rookie season).
- Duncan averaged 21.1 ppg, 11.9 rpg and 2.5 bpg to become the first rookie to be named All NBA First Team.
- A second round loss to eventual NBA Finalists Utah.
All things considered, a pretty successful season considering where they were a year prior. If only they could forsee what was to come…
The following season was marred by the NBA Lockout which saw the season reduced to just 50 games after the season began in early February. That didn’t seem to phase the Spurs who ended with the league’s best record at 37-13. Would this be the season (however short) that they would break through for their first NBA title?
Spoiler alert… it was!
By going 15-2 during the playoffs they had one of the most dominant postseasons the NBA has ever seen. And even though it was still David Robinson’s team it was the 2nd year big man Duncan who lead the way, averaging 23.2 ppg, 11.5 rpg and 2.6 bpg. This was the season that Tim Duncan introduced himself to the NBA and the world as the next great big man in the game, but even the most optimistic of Spurs fans couldn’t predict what the next 15 years was to produce.
Tune in next time when I break down from 2000 onward as well as how having a top shelf front office can pay dividends in the biggest possible way.