NBA championship

San Antonio Spurs center Tiago Splitter goes to the basket against the Miami Heat in the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami on Thursday. The Spurs won 107-86.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Larry W. Smith | Daily Texan Staff

This summer the San Antonio Spurs won their fifth NBA championship, crushing the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals four games to one. The 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs are one of the great championship teams in NBA history, and their recent victory further solidified the Spurs as perhaps the best franchise in professional sports. This year’s team also personified the sacrifice of individual acclaim for a greater goal, a characteristic increasingly rare in athletics, which, even on the collegiate level, focus on profit today.

The Spurs avenged last year’s devastating loss to the Heat in the NBA Finals. In Game Six of the 2013 series, the Spurs were on the verge of winning a championship, up by 5 points with 28 seconds left, before a series of errors and miraculous plays by Miami cost them the game. Two days later the Heat won the 2013 NBA crown in Game Seven. It was an absolutely gut-wrenching defeat for Spurs players, coaches and fans, the type of loss that could set a franchise back for years. But the Spurs entered the 2013-2014 season refusing to feel sorry for themselves. In training camp, head coach Gregg Popovich showed the team the film from the 2013 Finals and urged the players to use the loss as motivation for the upcoming season.

And use it they did. The Spurs stressed teamwork over individual performances. The Spurs finished the regular season with the league’s best record, and Popovich won NBA Coach of the Year. Throughout the season and playoffs, the team employed a playing system based on crisp passing, excellent three-point shooting and brilliantly-executed fundamental basketball skills. In the NBA Finals, the Spurs completely dismantled the Miami Heat, with each victory coming by at least 15 points. For his superb play, Kawhi Leonard, a third-year player for the Spurs, was named the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals. Heat players themselves praised the Spurs.  Chris Bosh, the Heat’s center, exclaimed after the series: “They played the best basketball I’ve ever seen.” LeBron James, the Heat’s Forward and team captain, similarly described San Antonio: “It’s all for the team and it’s never about the individual. That’s the brand of basketball, and that’s how team basketball should be played.”

The Spurs, with their consistent winning and class, are widely considered the model franchise in the NBA, and indeed, one of the best in all of professional sports. Popovich, who played college basketball at the Air Force Academy, is a brilliant tactician who runs his team with military precision while embracing a family-like atmosphere. R. C. Buford, the Spurs’ unassuming general manager, along with Popovich, has a knack for scouting basketball talent around the globe.  (Buford was named the NBA’s top executive this season.)

The Spurs have benefited from having gifted basketball players with selfless personalities on their roster over the years. The team and its players are beloved in the Alamo City and often participate in service events throughout the region, much like UT student athletes do in Austin. During the ‘70s and ‘80s, Hall of Famer George “The Iceman” Gervin, James Silas and UT alum Johnny Moore introduced basketball to San Antonio. In 1989, David Robinson began his Hall of Fame career with the Spurs and achieved much success in the ‘90s with teammates Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson. Not until the arrival of Popovich in late 1996 and Tim Duncan in 1997, however, did the Spurs reach their full potential. Robinson and Duncan formed the “Twin Towers,” using their size to dominate the low post, and won the franchise’s first NBA championship in 1999. The duo won the title again in 2003 in Robinson’s final year, aided by newcomers Manu GinoĢbili, Tony Parker and Bruce Bowen. The Spurs also captured NBA championships in 2005 and 2007. Both the franchise and its players have demonstrated great loyalty to one another. The front office rarely makes blockbuster trades, contributing to a sense of stability in the organization, and Spurs superstars frequently take pay cuts to allow more cap room for the team to spend on free agents who help the team compete for championships.

An individual-first attitude plagues professional sports today. Money too often drives athletes and team owners. Players frequently seem more concerned with earning riches than winning championships. Management seldom exhibits loyalty to athletes, as players suffer the uncertainty of trades and being cut from the team. Owners likewise appear most interested in the bottom line, and are not opposed to moving franchises to other cities if more profits can be made. These negative attributes in professional sports unfortunately can make fans cynical. The issue of money also has become controversial in college sports, as debate rages over whether or not student athletes should be paid for their part in helping university athletic departments make historic profits. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that student-athletes at Northwestern University could form a union. UT possesses the wealthiest athletic department in the country, and will have a major voice in future discussions about paying college athletes.

Because of the individual-first attitude in professional sports today, it is immensely satisfying to see the San Antonio Spurs rewarded for their team-centered excellence. The 2013-2014 Spurs team deserved this championship for so many reasons. Hard work, talent, game execution and redemption from last year’s brutal defeat, yes, but mostly because the players, coaches, and entire organization conduct themselves with professionalism, loyalty and class that make the Spurs the model NBA franchise.  With hall of fame veteran leadership and emerging stars like Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs are in good shape for the future. Congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs for an amazing championship season and for conducting themselves in a manner that reminds fans how truly great sports can be when individuals sacrifice for a greater team goal.

Briscoe is a history graduate student from Carrizo Springs.

The Dallas Mavericks and New York Knicks agreed to a six-player trade last Wednesday that landed center Tyson Chandler back in Dallas, where he won an NBA Championship in 2011.

The trade sent Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas in exchange for Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, and Shane Larkin in addition to the 34th and 51st pick in this year’s draft.

The Mavericks gave up two starters – Calderon at point guard and Dalembert at center – but received the best player in the deal in 2013 All-Star and former Defensive Player of the Year Chandler, giving the Mavs a much needed defensive boost.

Last season, Dallas was excellent on offense, averaging 104.8 points per game, but lacked in defense ranking 26th in the league in rebounds per game with 40.9 and 20th in points allowed with 102.4.
Chandler, who played in just 55 games with the Knicks due to injury, averaged 2.9 offensive rebounds per game, 6.7 rebounds per game and 1.15 blocks per game. While his presence on the court is an established fact, his health since leaving the Mavs’ championship roster in 2011 is suspect: Chandler has missed 43 games over the last two seasons.

However, as great of an asset as Chandler is on defense, the Mavericks will miss Calderon on the offensive side of the ball. Calderon was a consistent threat from the land beyond, with a regular season 3-point percentage of .449. Yet, Calderon was often criticized for his defense, missing action in ‘crunch-time’ when defense was a necessity.

The trade to acquire the 32-year-old center shows that the Mavs are focusing on building a roster to win now. The organization is excited about the upcoming season after taking the 2014 champion San Antonio Spurs to seven games in an intense series.

For Coach Rick Carlisle, acquiring Chandler is a step in the right direction.

“The guy is such an injection of enthusiasm and energy,” Carlisle said. “There have been few players that I’ve seen in 30 years in this league that have become so respected and so beloved in a market as Tyson has here in one year. He just has the exuberant enthusiasm that’s infection, and it rubs off on everybody.”  

Chandler believes that he can not only match his performance of 2011, but improve.
“Absolutely, I think I can be better,” said Chandler. “I finished the season healthy. I was already looking forward to this summer because I felt like there were so many things I could improve on.”

After missing out on landing big names in free agency for two straight years after their championship run, Dallas is now in a favorable position to try their luck at landing Carmelo Anthony also from the Knicks.

Chandler has wasted no time in recruiting former teammate Anthony for his current team.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team and the organization,” said Chandler. “But I’ll tell you one thing: Dallas isn’t a bad place to be. It’s a great opportunity, and clearly we’ve done it in the past. It’s not a hard place to sell. I’m going to do whatever it takes.” 

Did you feel that?

That kidney shot, that dagger to the heart, that excruciating experience that was watching the Spurs fall to the Heat in this year’s NBA Finals?

When Tony Parker hit that wild turnaround over LeBron James to seal a Game 1 win, the shot clock seemingly stuck at 0.1 seconds for an eternity, it became the Spurs’ series to lose. After responding to the Game 2 loss with a 36-point shellacking of the Heat in Game 3, it seemed like they were well on their way to locking up their fifth NBA championship.

The teams exchanged victories in Games 4 and 5 before returning to Miami for Game 6. One more victory was all the Spurs needed. How sweet would it be for Commissioner David Stern to give Gregg Popovich that coveted Larry O’Brien Trophy in front of thousands of fickle, undeserving Heat fans?

It would be the perfect ending for Stern to hand the trophy over to the same Spurs he fined $250,000 last November for sitting its players in the only regular season meeting against Miami.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

The Spurs imploded in Game 6. Popovich proved even the best coaches make mistakes when he sat Tim Duncan on the last two defensive possessions before the Heat forced overtime with back-to-back three-pointers from James and Ray Allen. At the end of overtime, Manu Ginobili couldn’t finish at the rim. Danny Green was blocked by Chris Bosh at the buzzer.
It’s the kind of Game 6 loss that predetermines the outcome of Game 7.

But if there was any team that could bounce back from such a demoralizing loss, it was the Popovich-led Spurs. Yet, they never took control of the game. The Heat triumphed, as James and Co. celebrated their second straight title.

The team that was bought beat the team that was built.

This one is going to sting for a while.

Dallas MavericksĀ’ Dirk Nowitzki reacts in the final minute of the second half of Game 6 of the NBA Finals basketball game against the Miami Heat Sunday in Miami.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MIAMI— Dirk Nowitzki got the Dallas Mavericks to the brink of an NBA championship. His teammates did the rest, a perfect ending for a club that talked all season about its greatest strength being the sum of its parts.

Nowitzki missed 11 of his first 12 shots and matched his series low with 21 points, yet with Jason Terry scoring 27 and every starter and reserve making some sort of significant contribution, the Mavericks beat the Miami Heat 105-95 Sunday night to wrap up the first title in franchise history.

The difference-makers were everywhere: from Ian Mahinmi with his step-back jumper and third quarter buzzer-beater to DeShawn Stevenson and his three 3-pointers in the first half; from Brian Cardinal making a 3 and drawing a charge to J.J. Barea improving to 3-0 as a starter.

“This is a true team,” coach Rick Carlisle said during the jubilant trophy ceremony. “We don’t run fast or jump high. These guys have each other back. This is a phenomenal group.”

Although Nowitzki had only three points at halftime, Dallas was up 53-51. It was a testament to the teammates around him. They knew if they could keep it close, the big German would snap out of his funk.

He did.

Nowitzki made his first shot of the second half and began to find a groove. He went 8 of 15 in the second half, scoring 18 points — and becoming a champion for the first time.

“I couldn’t get in a rhythm today for some reason,” Nowitzki said. “The team carried me all night long. (Terry) came out aggressive. I’ve got to give it up to the fellows. They were unbelievable tonight.”

Not a single player on this roster had won a championship, and that shared burden drove them all season. Nowitzki and Terry lived with the disgust of blowing a nearly 3-0 lead against Miami in the 2006 finals, and Jason Kidd lost consecutive finals with New Jersey in 2002-03. All told, this roster had 133 seasons and zero rings.

The emotions began to hit with 18.8 seconds left and Kidd going to the line. Nowitzki and Terry met at midcourt — right on top of the Heat’s logo — and shared a hug, the smaller Terry leaning on the big German like a child and his dad.

Nowitzki went to near the other free throw line, put a hand on his hip and exhaled. The job was done.

A week shy of his 33rd birthday, the former league MVP finally had the championship he so desperately craved. No longer will he and Kidd be part of the conversation of “best player never to win a ring.”

It’s a lift for the franchise, too. This celebration 31 years in the making was savored by hundreds of Mavericks fans, despite being halfway across the country. They stood in their blue shirts chanting “Let’s Go Mavs.” In Dallas, a packed house watched at the home arena, no doubt going bonkers themselves.

Franchise founder Donald Carter — wearing his trademark white cowboy hat, the one that used to be part of the team’s logo — accepted the trophy from commissioner David Stern at Cuban’s request.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the Western Conference title celebration, Cuban said: “It just feels so good for Dirk and Jason Kidd and (Terry) and Shawn Marion. ... This team has so much heart, so much determination.”

And a championship.