When the Spurs beat the Heat to win the 2014 NBA title, it was San Antonio’s fifth championship of the Tim Duncan era, one which has spanned 16 seasons since the first was won back in 1999.
That first championship was secured in a lockout-shortened season, however, which has caused some pundits — and even those inside the game — to diminish the accomplishment.
Phil Jackson, who coached the Lakers as San Antonio’s primary Western Conference rival during that span and won five titles of his own in Los Angeles, has been among the Spurs historical detractors. And after San Antonio matched Jackson’s Lakers in total trophies, the team’s owner decided to fire back at Jackson, who had landed plenty of jabs of his own over the years.
From Jeff Caplan of NBA.com:
Spurs owner Peter Holt couldn’t help himself, or more accurately he simply didn’t want to. The opportunity to turn the sharp stick back on Phil Jackson, San Antonio’s longtime nemesis and Spurs dynasty denier, was much, much too delicious to pass up.
The smile that spread broadly across Holt’s face and the hearty chuckle that spilled from it revealed his satisfaction in doing so. Holt, basking in the immediate glow of his team’s fifth championship Sunday night, was asked if this title is the sweetest of them all. Holt said, yes it is, although the first in 1999 will always be special, and that’s when you could start to see Holt’s face light up and the smile begin to build…
“Even though it was a shortened, asterisked season,” Holt said, now sporting a full-on grin. “Phil, Phil, Phil, Phil, we all played the same amount of playoff games, didn’t we, Phil?”
Holt was quickly reminded that Jackson was retired that season, his first out of the league following a second three-peat with Michael Jordan and the Bulls.
“Yeah, uh-huh.” Holt said. “Well, he bailed out.”
The reality is that if that 1999 title is put under close examination, it simply doesn’t measure up to those won in non-lockout seasons. Not all players returned to the game in shape and ready to play, and San Antonio beat an eight-seeded Knicks team in the Finals that year, with the most memorable highlight of the series coming from a wide-open, baseline jumper from Avery Johnson, which is hardly the stuff of legend.
But on the other hand, even when setting the 1999 title aside, San Antonio accomplished something that Jackson was never able to, despite his incredible success as a head coach. This Spurs run has essentially lasted 17 years, and is still going strong — every one of those full seasons resulted in at least 50 wins, and the team hasn’t missed out on the postseason since 1997.
Holt had just won a title, and he has a right to run a little smack back at Jackson. But in a more quiet moment of reflection, he likely realizes that what the Spurs have accomplished might be even more impressive.