Now that the agony of watching one of the most excruciating NBA Finals in recent memory is finally over, there is much talk of the San Antonio Spurs as a contemporary dynasty. Unless the pundits are referring to the over-the-top nighttime soap opera starring Joan Collins that ran on ABC in the '80s, I'm not sure what they mean.
This reference to Blake Carrington and crew is closer to what the Spurs actually are: a fictional dynasty. To call the Spurs a real dynasty is something like calling Paris Hilton Patty Hearst. Though both are heiresses who ended up in jail, the similarities stop there. In other words, a cat can have kittens in an oven, but that doesn't make them biscuits.
The Spurs may look like a dynasty to some delusional beings, but alas, they are not. Dynasties are defined by unquestioned, sustained dominance over a significant period of time along with a larger-than-life identity to boot, neither of which the Spurs possess. It is not just about how many championship rings you have won, it is how you went about achieving those rings.
Many want to trace the roots of this so-called dynasty back to 1999, when the franchise won its first NBA title. That squad was about as bogus as a three-dollar bill as far as champions go. The Spurs finished the shortened lockout season with a 37-13 record, eventually beating the eighth-seeded Knicks in the Finals. If you include all the playoff and Finals games, the Spurs played a whopping 67 games the entire season. Fifteen more games and you would actually have enough to complete a normal regular season.
Though it was not the Spurs' fault that the league decided to lock out its players and then play an abbreviated schedule, they should not necessarily benefit from this fact, either. It is an insult to all the champions past and present who played a full schedule to ignore that the Spurs got off real easy. I am not saying they would not have won the title -- who really knows? -- but when you consider the up-and-down nature of a normal 82-game regular season, the intensity of the playoffs and Finals, injuries, and the overall rigors of the NBA life, the '99 title should at least include an asterisk next to the Spurs' name.
How much has changed since 1999 anyway? That was eons ago. A Clinton was still in the White House, iPods didn't exist, Lauryn Hill (who?) dominated the Grammys and Superman was still a boy. The only remaining player from that '99 team is Tim Duncan, so to try and stretch that team's success into the present is in the immortal words of Mike Tyson, "ludicrous."
This means that any conversation about a possible Spurs dynasty should start in 2003, when this present incarnation of the team won the first of its three titles. Even '03 seems like a long time ago now. Of all people, Stephen Jackson, the pride of Port Arthur, Texas, started at the 2-guard position. Yes, this is the same Stephen Jackson who has since become the NBA's version of thug life, even having Golden State Warriors teammate Matt Barnes pat him down like a cop conducting a search during player introductions. Imagine that.
Since that time we have watched the emergence of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, who along with stalwart Duncan and defensive specialist Bruce "Scissorhands" Bowen comprise the nucleus. Tony Parker and his bride-to-be Eva Longoria have become more overexposed than Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were a few years ago; let's just call them "Toneva." Though in one sense this present team of players from around the globe -- France, Argentina, St. Croix, Slovenia and the Netherlands -- personifies the basketball version of Thomas Friedman's notion that "the world is flat," it doesn't make them any less boring to watch.
In order to be considered a dynasty, you need to dominate year after year. The Spurs haven't won back-to-back titles and this is a prerequisite for what might be considered a dynasty. They were snubbed in the conference semifinals in both 2004 and 2006. That's right semifinals. This title-every-other-year thing does not a dynasty make. Dynasties don't take time off. If the Spurs had been to the Finals in '04 and '06 and lost, I would be more sympathetic, but in both of those years they lost to teams that ultimately lost in the Finals. So I can't give them any love on this tip, either.
There have been only two real dynasties in the modern era of the NBA since 1979: the '80s Lakers and Jordan's Bulls in the '90s. No, the '80s Celtics were not a dynasty, either. Though the Celtics went to the Finals in '81, and again in 1984-87 and won three titles, two of those titles were against the Houston Rockets in years when the Lakers came up short. The Celtics never won back-to-back titles and their opponents in '81, the Rockets, were so bad they only won 40 games, concluding the regular season with a losing record. Boston did beat the Lakers in '84, but lost to them in '85 and '87. The Celtics were very good, but ultimately they played the role of Joe Frazier to the Lakers' Muhammad Ali.
The '80s Lakers featured two of the top five players of all time in Magic and Kareem. From 1980 to 1991, the Lakers ruled the Western Conference and dominated the rest of the league. With five titles and nine Finals appearances, not to mention the first back-to-back titles in 19 years in '87 and '88, this team stood head and shoulders above the competition, year in and year out.
The Bulls won three straight titles on two different occasions. It could be argued that if Jordan hadn't been chasing baseballs in '94 and most of '95, the Bulls could have been in contention for eight straight titles, an achievement that would have matched Bill Russell's Celtics and their unprecedented run of eight straight. If you want to push the speculation even further, imagine if Jordan, Scottie Pippen, the Worm and Phil Jackson had returned for one more run in '99? Considering the lockout shortened season, they could have rested their old legs and made a run at nine themselves, perhaps even beating the Spurs in the process. Even if we dispense with all the speculation, the Bulls of the '90s were on an entirely different level than the Spurs are now.
Even the Shaq and Kobe Lakers are more deserving of the dynasty title than the Spurs, though the Lakers' own internal beefs keeps them from truly being considered a dynasty. This squad went to four Finals in five years and won three straight. Again, dominance and consistency are the key here, but when you compare this Lakers crew to Magic's or Jordan's teams, then it is clear they are not quite there.
The Spurs have been a good team ever since Tim Duncan suited up. They are one of the best-run franchises in the league and as long as TD can still ball, I suspect that they'll at least be in contention. But a dynasty they are not.
After all, dynasties need rivals, too. The '80s Lakers had to go through the 76ers, Celtics, and Pistons before bowing out against the new dynasty, the Bulls, in '91. The Bulls shut down any and all comers, including two straight victories over the Utah Jazz for their last two rings. The Spurs beat a mediocre New Jersey team in '03 and the not-ready-for-prime-time Cavs this year. The only real challenge the Spurs have had in the Finals was when the Pistons took them to seven games in '05. Take away a Big Shot Bob 3-pointer in Game 5 and Larry Brown's drama over his job status, and maybe the outcome here would have been different, too.
In addition to winning rings and constantly tasting champagne, there is also an intangible: Dynasties have to have a persona, an image, a swagger like no other that puts the fear of God in the hearts of opponents. The '80s Lakers had Showtime, the '90s Bulls had the greatest of all time and the Zen Master on the sideline. Both of these teams developed a national following as well. The Spurs have Duncan, who can't even sell sneakers. They are so utterly uninteresting as a team and a group of personalities that they don't even inspire hate. As the low television ratings indicate, the only thing the Spurs inspire is indifference.
Oftentimes in contemporary society people throw words around loosely. Dynasty is one of those words. But when you look at the teams from the past and recognize how high the bar has been set, the Spurs simply do not qualify. Not yet at least. This time of year accolades flow pretty freely. Two weeks ago we were all crowning LeBron, but after the Spurs bought out that broom on him and the Cavs, he seems like a kid who snuck into an adult party with a fake ID. Because this year's Finals were so bad, people got bored and distracted. It was suddenly more interesting to speculate on whether the Spurs deserved the title of a dynasty than it was to watch the games. Well, now that the bloodletting is over, maybe everyone will regain their senses.
The Spurs are a very good basketball team that has accomplished some great things, but don't let the smooth taste fool you: Four rings represent quantity, but the Spurs still have a ways to go before they deserve the quality label that true dynasties have already earned.
Dr. Todd Boyd, a columnist for Page 2, is an author, media commentator, and professor of critical studies at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. His next book, "The Notorious Ph.D.'s Guide to the Super Fly '70s," will be published this month.