They Are the Champions…..of the World.

By Jerold Wells Jr.
Updated: June 24, 2005

2003MINNESOTA—We have just witnessed one of the best NBA Finals ever played. Two teams fought to a worthy end and a deserving victor has been crowned. The San Antonio Spurs are once again champions of the world and they have the incomparable Tim Duncan to thank for it. His performance in Game Seven of the NBA Finals proved to the world that he is worthy of all the accolades he receives year in and year out. (Best post player/pivot in the game, Player any GM would want to start a team with, etc) Without him, Greg Popovich’s offensive and defensive schemes would collapse, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili’s fearless drives would be met with greater resistance, and the series defining three pointers that Robert Horry, Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili connected on would have been nullified. Duncan’s steely resolve, confidence in himself, his coach, and his teammates materialized into his third Larry O’Brien tropy and Finals MVP last night.

While it is Duncan’s third title, it is his first without the humble giant known as “The Admiral” David Robinson by his side. In the hearts and minds of Spurs fans, David Robinson is a legend who held the franchise upright during very tough times. His leadership combined with All Star level play made him a legend in the annals of NBA history. Duncan’s ascension into the stratosphere of superstardom has been somewhat stunted by the immense shadow cast by David Robinson. Detractors would say that without the help of Robinson, Duncan could not and would not win another title. They said he could not be the Spurs leader both in the locker room and on the floor as Robinson was. They were all wrong. Duncan proved that he could win as the leader of this team. His is a story of a young man coming into his own and silencing critics. Tim Duncan is one of the greatest of all time.

Some have proclaimed Duncan to be the greatest power forward ever to play the game. The more he wins, the more credence he lends to such claims. Some power forwards scored more points, some collected more rebounds, some passed more efficiently, and some shot free throws at a better percentage. No power forward I have witnessed (keep in mind I am 22) can match his consistency (he’s a lock for a double double virtually every night), his efficiency in the post (his right handed jump hook is a thing of beauty), and his big game performances (Duncan played a whale of a game last night). Karl Malone and Charles Barkley had opportunities but could not obtain the titles that Duncan has.(They can both thank Michael Jordan for denying them.) Kevin Garnet, Chris Webber, Amare Stoudamire and Jermaine O’Neal are chasing Duncan but remain a step behind since none of them have proven themselves in the NBA Finals. As dominant as Duncan is, his greatness is best viewed in the play of his teammates.

In this years edition of the NBA playoffs, Manu Ginobili proved he deserved the All Star selection bestowed upon him earlier this season. Against the toughest perimeter defense in the game, Ginobili attacked the rim with purpose and continuously challenged the mettle of the defending champions. I was taught that one surefire way to beat pressure is with pressure. If a defender presses you with tight, man-to-man defense, then you rip the ball across your body and drive strong to the left of the right. In the games San Antonio won, (1,2, 5 and 7) Ginobili successfully and consistently drove the basketball to the rim for either a finish or an easy shot for a teammate. It takes a special player to continually venture into the teeth of such a stout defense and special is only one the words worthy for describing Manu Ginobili. In addition to his scoring, Manu’s defense and rebounding also improved showing maturation in an already promising player.

Part of being a superstar is allowing your light to shine so brightly that the players around you are also exposed under the glare that the media and fans give off. In short, superstars allow good role players to be good role players. Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, Nazr Mohammed, and most of all Robert Horry all carved out a niche in the 2005 NBA Finals because they found a level of comfortability playing alongside Tim Duncan.

Bruce Bowen and Nazr Mohammed played excellent defense (both help side and man to man) during the Finals. Mohammed proved to be the “Rasheed Wallace” type pick up of this NBA season as he provided the help in the post Duncan desperately needed. Bruce Bowen shut Richard Hamilton down for about half of this series by never allowing him to get into a rhythm shooting the ball. And then, as if on cue, he essentially shut down Detroit’s best crunch time player, Chauncey Billups in Game 7, Bruce Bowen has been called a lot of things by players and fans alike, most of which is not fit for print on a family oriented website such as this one. While some of Bruce’s antics are annoying and do border on “dirty” he is a tenacious defender and his defensive energy permeates the entire team.

Tony Parker has more championship rings than Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Baron Davis, and Stephon Marbury combined. (He also has Tim Duncan but follow my lead here.) As the point guard for the best team in the NBA, Tony Parker shoulders a ton of responsibility. His ability to run the team, make decisions under pressure, and set the tone offensively had as much to do with the Spurs eventual victory as Tim Duncan’s consistent dominance and Bruce Bowen’s harassing defense. It was clear from the opening tip of the Finals that Detroit intended to pressure Parker into mistakes and disrupt the flow of the Spurs offence through him. He stood firm despite the best efforts of the Pistons backcourt and that helped San Antonio to win the requisite four games. Despite handling continual pressure and emerging unscathed, his most impressive accomplish was the excellent man to man defense he employed against Richard Hamilton to secure the outcome of Game 5. Parker has never been praised as an excellent one on one defender but that stand proved to me how much he wanted to win, and again hold the mantle of champion.

Robert Horry has a reputation as a big game player who takes and makes big shots at crucial times. When the Spurs needed a lift he would corral and offensive rebound, block a shot, or dunk of shooting guards looking to take a charge. Robert Horry was the X Factor in this series because it seemed as if in the few times that the Detroit Pistons would make a mistake it was Horry who made them pay. No team goes into a game saying, we’ve got to shut Robert Horry down in order to win this game. Maybe they should start.