SI.com 2003 NBA Finals 2003 NBA Finals


No asterisk will smudge this champion

Posted: Sunday June 08, 2003 3:22 PM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- The three NBA titles Steve Kerr won with the Chicago Bulls and the one he won in San Antonio all look the same.

Nowhere on the trophy or banners, or in record books, is there a notation showing that the Spurs' 1999 title came in a lockout-shortened season played while Michael Jordan was retired.

"They still gave us a ring," Kerr said. "And there's no asterisk on the ring."

Yet, to many critics, San Antonio's championship is considered tainted because the regular season was 50 games, not 82. It's similar to the knock the Houston Rockets heard when they won consecutive titles during Jordan's first retirement.

Now, the Spurs are back in the NBA Finals, tied 1-1 with the New Jersey Nets going into Game 3 on Sunday night.

Whoever winds up winning the series will be able to enjoy their victory parade without anything tainting their accomplishment. After all, this was a full season, and Jordan was part of it.

"To have this opportunity to win it outright makes me really feel good for the guys," said George "Iceman" Gervin, a Hall of Fame player for the Spurs who still works for the organization.

"A lot of us believe that since we are still talking about it after four years, the asterisk, I think it was an unfortunate thing. All of us played the same amount of games and had the same amount of playoff games."

To the four players left from the '99 team, the imaginary asterisk is such a tired, irritating subject that it hasn't even turned into fodder for locker-room jokes. Kerr, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Malik Rose consider it a non-issue.

"Ooooh, the asterisk," Rose said, rolling his eyes when the subject was brought up. "When I first heard that, I thought, 'There are 28 other teams that would love to have that asterisk we were supposedly going to get.' So it didn't really bother me.

"People want to always have an excuse as to why something happens. We don't really look at it that way. My championship ring looks the same as all the others that came before it -- or better."

Phil Jackson, who coached the winners of the past nine titles not won by Houston or San Antonio, is widely credited -- or blamed -- for slapping the asterisk on the Spurs. A fan at Game 1 even held up a sign that read, "Phil can kiss my ..."

In May 2001, Jackson tried setting the record straight about his remark.

He explained that on Jan. 25, 1999, shortly before the lockout-shortened season finally began, he told the Bulls he wasn't returning because he didn't like the idea of being part of a condensed season. He also made a comment at that time about an asterisk being attached to that season's championship.

Jackson thought the line was so good, he repeated it several times -- even up to a year after the Spurs won the title -- with the asterisk attached.

While Kerr shrugs at the label, he has joked with Jackson about it.

"Oh yeah!" Kerr said, laughing. "But that's private.

"If I remember correctly, we all played 50 games that year," Kerr added. "I don't think everybody else played 82 and we played 50. So, whatever. People have too much time on their hands."

Shooting guard Stephen Jackson, who joined the Spurs last season, doesn't understand all the fuss.

"A championship is a championship," he said. "It wasn't the Spurs' fault the season had to be shortened, so I don't believe in that. Like Tim always says, anybody else would be happy to have that ring. So, I don't look at it like that.

"I know my teammates want to win again -- but not to prove anything to anyone for the '99 season. They want to win because we have a great team, we worked hard to get here and we deserve to win."


 
Related information
Stories
Burns: Mutombo could change series for Nets
Fast Breaks: Land of the dinosaur centers
Burns: Nets hope to break out at home
Nets heading East with momentum
Nets find way to slow Duncan
Multimedia
Visit Video Plus for the latest audio and video

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 


 
CNNSI