Five times LeBron James has led a team all the way to the NBA Finals, he has two rings to show for that.
Two of those three times he got stopped on basketball’s biggest stage it was at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. That included last June when the Spurs played the highest level of basketball we have seen in years and just dismantled the Heat in five games. A loss that was one of the dominoes in LeBron returning to Cleveland to pair up with younger stars.
So LeBron has a rivalry with the Spurs, right?
Wrong. At least if you ask him. Which is what Joe Vardon of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry, I would say it’s a mutual respect,” James said on Tuesday. “It’s great competition and they definitely help me grow along the way, and hopefully I push them too….
“I’ve always loved playing against them and playing against Pop (Popovich), that’s someone I admire and respect so much,” James said. “Obviously the Big 3 as well…
“The thing I most admire is they work a championship mindset every single day on and off the floor,” James added. “Do they win the championship every single year? No, obviously, we see that. But I think good karma comes with how you approach the game and how you approach off the court as well.”
The Spurs have built the most consistent, longest-thriving dynasty the NBA has seen since the 1960s Celtics around the greatest power forward the game has ever seen in Tim Duncan, one of the three greatest coaches ever in Gregg Popovich, and a host of other great players over the years such as David Robinson, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and now Kawhi Leonard.
And they have been the hurdle LeBron has had the hardest time clearing. Maybe there isn’t the white-hot hate of a good rivalry, but the Spurs have been in LeBron’s way for a while.
He’s not clearing that hurdle in a November game, but this is a good test of where the improving Cavaliers are at. After a slow start the Spurs have hit their stride again (they beat the Clippers and Warriors on back-to-back nights last week) and they are building out the frame of a team that, come next May, should scare the rest of the NBA. Right now they are a work in progress like every NBA team, but the Spurs are still a good measuring stick for LeBron. Rival or no.