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Friday, June 15, 2007
Updated: June 18, 12:44 PM ET
A great team that fans don't appreciate

By Jemele Hill
Page 2

CLEVELAND -- Put the Spurs in Doc's DeLorean. Turn the dial to the 1980s, or early-to-mid 1990s. Just put them in a time when basketball fans weren't huge hypocrites.

You know how they say some people are before their time? Well, the Spurs are behind their time. In today's Paris Hilton-obsessin', 360-degree-dunkin'-lovin,' sexy-soundbite-wantin', entertain-me-me-me culture, the Spurs are an Atari in a land full of Wiis.

These millennium Spurs, now winners of four titles in nine years, were born at the wrong time. That's why they are, by far, the most underappreciated, disrespected champion in NBA history.

Tim Duncan
You wouldn't be pumped to see Duncan, Parker and Ginobili square off against Magic, Bird or Isiah?

But imagine them in the '80s with Bird, Kareem, Magic and Zeke. Imagine their execution facing the Pistons' toughness. Imagine Duncan against McHale. Imagine Rodman and Bowen competing for most irritating. Bet we wouldn't call the Spurs unwatchable then.

"I'm going to go on record and say, yeah, we would beat them," said Robert Horry, when asked if these Spurs could beat some of the great Boston teams in the '80s.

Imagine the Spurs in the early-to-mid '90s playing Jordan. Imagine Duncan versus Malone. Imagine Duncan versus Barkley. Imagine Popovich versus Sloan. Imagine the Spurs' big three rolling to Chicago trying to take the crown from Mike. Bet the television ratings wouldn't be so bad then.

Imagine the Spurs against the '82-83 Sixers. Imagine Moses Malone's "fo', fo', fo'" prediction contrasting with Tony Parker's French accent. Bet we wouldn't call the Spurs boring then.

We would have just waved our "Beat It" jackets in the air and cheered for the Spurs.

"Back then, it was more blue-collar," Horry said. "We're a blue-collar team and guys work hard and they appreciated it a little bit more than they do nowadays. They like flash."

Yes, we do. We talk a good game about wanting to see players with fundamentals, about wanting to see solid defense, about wanting to root for players who are anti-thug, about wanting to see execution, about appreciating good coaching, about wanting guys to just play and not mouth off.

And then we predictably tune in for more T.O.

Ask yourself: When was the last time one of the Spurs was arrested? When was the last time one of the Spurs whined about playing time? More money? Demanded a trade?

Think about that the next time you groan because the Spurs were in the Finals.

We treat the Spurs like they're a punishment. It's not the Spurs' fault they still do things the '80s way. It's not the Spurs' fault that most teams in the NBA aren't committed to defense. It's not the Spurs' fault all the worst general managers are in the league's biggest markets (Isiah Thomas, Mitch Kupchak, Danny Ainge). It's not the Spurs' fault the Eastern Conference is the professional version of the NCAA's Patriot League. It's not the Spurs' fault they're the best-run organization in the NBA. It's not the Spurs' fault that Tim Duncan, the most accomplished player in the post-Jordan era, doesn't fit the stereotype of black male athletes and therefore won't garner widespread, national attention until he holds up a 7-Eleven.

"For the true basketball fan, I think we are appreciated," Michael Finley said. "But for the era today, when it's about putting points on the board, it's not appreciated as much. Back in the day when 80-point games were considered high-scoring games, I could see this team being appreciated. It doesn't matter how many points you score, it's about winning, and this organization has done that. From that standpoint, the respect should definitely be there."

There are not enough great teams, and somehow this became the Spurs' problem instead of the league's problem. The Spurs should remind us how basketball used to be played in the NBA, but we've turned on them and sent the message that outside San Antonio it's ABS -- Anybody But the Spurs.

We're always quick to lament how much today's athlete has changed, but the truth is our fan values have changed just as much. It was once a no-brainer to embrace a team like the Spurs. Wish we could transport them back to a time when we cared more about what they stand for.

Page 2 columnist Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.