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LET KING JAMES HAVE HIS NICKNAME. LEBRON JAMES DOES, AFTER ALL, HAVE QUITE A KINGDOM, ENCOMPASSING MADISON AVENUE, CABLE HIGHLIGHT SHOWS AND REPLICA JERSEY SALES. HIS DOMINION DOES NOT YET EXTEND OVER THE NBA, HOWEVER, WHERE THE ONLY THRONE THAT REALLY MATTERS IS CURRENTLY OCCUPIED BY AN UNASSUMING AND LARGELY UNDERAPPRECIATED TEAM FROM SOUTH TEXAS.
James may own his share of individual crowns, but after being conquered in the Finals by the team that has now won four of the last nine championships, even the King himself would no doubt acknowledge that the NBA's royal family is the San Antonio Spurs.
The beauty of the Spurs is that they could not care less about being considered beautiful. They will never be the league's flashiest team or its trendiest or its hippest. This team doesn't make the nation's pulse pound; it simply goes about its business with metronome-like consistency and efficiency.
Isn't that what we want from our champions? Don't we complain about the preening, me-first attitude of too many NBA stars? Don't we tell our kids that the athletes to emulate are the ones who put their team's success above their own? It's a travesty, then, that the Spurs should ever be slighted by being called boring, a label that followed them even as they dispatched supposedly more exciting teams such as Denver, Phoenix and Cleveland on the way to the title. James's breathtaking talent was supposed to be the only reason for any non- San Antonio fan to watch the Finals.
But the Spurs are boring only if watching power forward Tim Duncan (page 66) put on a nightly clinic in the fine art of low-post scoring makes you drowsy. They are boring only if it does nothing for you to see Tony Parker (page 56) leave a vapor trail as he jets into the lane, or to track his backcourt mate Manu Gin�bili knifing to the basket and finishing with an assortment of shots from a variety of angles. They are boring only if watching Bruce Bowen (page 62) lock down high-scoring opponents with every trick in the book somehow fails to fascinate you. San Antonio is finely tuned, precise at both ends of the floor. If watching coach Gregg Popovich preside over five men playing as one leaves you uninspired, so be it. Go watch a dunk contest.
It is the remarkable Duncan who gives the Spurs their businesslike identity. Except for the occasional wide-eyed stare at a referee when he's called for a questionable foul, he plays without expression, which will never earn him street cred or TV commercials. His teammates sometimes joke about what it would take for Duncan to draw the same kind of attention that some players with fewer accomplishments but more attitude receive. "The first game of the regular season, have him smack someone," says forward Robert Horry. "He's already got the silver and black on. Now we just need to make him mean."
But Duncan prefers to work on his game instead of his fame. He proved his dedication during the last off-season, after plantar fasciitis in his right foot limited him to 18.6 points per game on 48.4% shooting in 2005-06, both career lows. It was no coincidence that the Spurs fell in the Western Conference semifinals to the Dallas Mavericks. "I came back [last] summer with a real urge to work at it and get back to a certain level," he says.
That level was at the top, and Duncan has lifted his team and himself back to that spot. He could showboat on the court and shout about his return to greatness in front of TV cameras, but that will never be his style. Duncan will let his performance and the Spurs' dynasty—yes, it's time to begin using that word—speak for themselves. Only four teams (three franchises) have won as many NBA titles in as short a span as San Antonio's four in nine seasons. The Minneapolis Lakers won five in six seasons from 1949 through '54 with George Mikan at center. With Bob Cousy and Bill Russell, Red Auerbach built the Celtics into the league's greatest dynasty, winning 11 titles in 13 seasons from 1957 through '69. The L.A. Lakers, led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson, collected five from 1980 through '88, and the Bulls of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen won six between 1991 and '98. That's it. That's the list. No other franchise in the league's 61-year history can match the Spurs' current run. Boring? More like legendary.
There is no question that this kind of excellence deserves more praise, and perhaps if the Spurs played in a media center, they would be the NBA's version of America's Team. "Put our team in New York, and they'd be loving us," Parker says. "We'd be like the Yankees." But why would they want to be? Even as San Antonio was entering the last stages of this year's title run, the Yankees were suffering through the downside of fame, with Alex Rodriguez's personal life being splashed across the back pages of the tabloids. And the Lakers' Kobe Bryant was stealing attention from the Spurs by whining on sports talk radio about his team's mediocrity.
If such drama is the price of fame, the Spurs should consider themselves lucky that they don't have to pay it. They simply continue to win, and if some misguided souls insist on calling them boring or bland, they will live with it, because they know there is another b word that applies to them as well. The Spurs are, once again, the best.