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All-time greatest nominee #17 – 2003 San Antonio Spurs

During the 2002-2003 NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs would win 60 games for only the second time in franchise history.  The team had won the 1998-99 championship in only Tim Duncan’s second season, but during this season the Spurs wanted to send The Admiral, David Robinson, out as a two-time champion.  Robinson had announced his imminent retirement to follow the season, and his 14-year career could not have been ended any better.

Tim Duncan would earn his second consecutive regular season MVP award, and San Antonio would finish 60-22 and win the Midwest Division, while earning the top seed in the West. After winning the MVP but falling short of a title in 2002, Tim Duncan seemed even more driven to lift his Spurs to a second championship.  Avery Johnson would start at point guard for the 1999 title team, however, this edition of the Spurs would highlight the future of the franchise with Tony Parker running the point and averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 assists.  Parker was only 20 years old, but showed flashes of brilliance. Bruce Bowen and Stephen Jackson started and gave the team solid defense and the edge of a champion.  It was also the rookie season for Manu Ginobili who helped anchor a solid bench including Steve Smith, Steve Kerr, Kevin Willis and Danny Ferry.

Several key rookies joined Manu Ginobili in the league including Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince, Yao Ming and Amare’ Stoudemire. Yao became an All-Star starter and helped Houston win 43 games during the season, while just missing the playoffs.  Stoudemire, who was the ninth pick in the draft, helped the Phoenix Suns return to the playoffs and won the Rookie of the Year Award.  It was also the “rookie” season for the first round change to a best-of-seven series instead of the previous best-of-five.  Also, it was the first season for the New Orleans Hornets who moved from Charlotte.

The San Antonio Spurs had a solid start to the season going 33-16 by the All-Star break, but turned it on in the second half of the season with a 27-6 finish.  Tim Duncan averaged 23.3 points and 12.9 rebounds a game in his second MVP season, and the Spurs seemed ready to roll for the playoffs.  The Dallas Mavericks, however, also finished with a 60-22 record led by their star, Dirk Nowitzki, who averaged 25.1 points and 9.9 rebounds during the season.  The Sacramento Kings also played very well and finished the year with a 59-23 record and the second overall seed in the West due to winning the Pacific division. The Kings were led, once again, by Chris Webber with another solid season averaging 23.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per contest.

In the East, the New Jersey Nets weren’t the top seed in the conference as they were in 2002.  That spot would be earned by the Detroit Pistons who won 50 games, while the Nets settled for 49 wins and the #2 seed.  Once the playoffs began, however, New Jersey flexed their experienced playoff muscles led by Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson. After a six-game series with Milwaukee in the first round, the Nets swept both Boston and Detroit to reach their second straight Finals.

The Spurs were challenged in the West all along the way.  They needed six games to beat the pesky young Suns in the first round, then San Antonio dodged a bullet in game #5 of the Western Semi-Finals against the Lakers when Robert Horry’s potential game-winning 3-pointer rimmed out and the Spurs finished off the Lakers in game #6. In the Western Conference Finals, it took another six-games to dispatch the Dallas Mavericks.

The 2003 NBA Finals marked the first championship contested between two former ABA teams. The Spurs and Nets would battle to a 2-2 tie in the first four games of the Finals.  In game #5, Tim Duncan simply wouldn’t let his team lose scoring 29 points with 17 rebounds and 4 blocked shots to help seal a win. The Spurs would then wrap up a second title with a game #6 win and Duncan would led them once again. Duncan had 22 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks in the clincher and became only the seventh player to win the Finals MVP Award a second time (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal were the previous six). Tim Duncan averaged 24.2 points, 17.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 5.3 blocks in the Finals.

The second championship team in San Antonio was special no doubt, but they were only touching the surface of what they would achieve in the future.  When you consider Duncan’s epic Finals performance, David Robinson’s final season, a young Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and the second best record of any Spurs Championship team (behind only the 62 win 2014 team), you realize just how special.  The 2003 team jump started the Duncan, Parker, Ginobili dynasty, and included the ultimate player’s coach in Gregg Popovich who guided this talented team with his typical focus and drive that has become the “San Antonio way”.  The Spurs are the very meaning of “team”, and if you think that ever goes out of style you would be wrong.

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