The San Antonio Spurs will continue their quest to the NBA Finals for the second straight year, looking to close the series out on the Oklahoma City Thunder‘s home court Saturday night. Unfortunately, it may finally be the last time we witness the dynamic player-coach duo of Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, as Duncan is expected to retire at the conclusion of this season. This duo has been incredibly successful during their 17-year reign, capturing four titles and possibly a fifth coming within the upcoming weeks.
Throughout San Antonio’s dominance, there have been multiple teams in the Western Conference, specifically, that have challenged the Spurs for years, most notably the Los Angeles Lakers. San Antonio has met Los Angeles in the playoffs a number of times leading to some epic battles primarily at the hands of Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant.
Bryant has been the only member of the Lakers to play against the Spurs’ dynasty every single year since it came into effect in the mid-90s. San Antonio struck first when they were victors of the NBA Finals in 1998-99, but Los Angeles answered back immediately, three-peating from 2000-02.
Then once Los Angeles failed to get past the Spurs in the playoffs, San Antonio went on to win the title in 2003. Basically, it was nothing but Spurs and Lakers for five straight years, beginning sort of a rivalry not only between the franchises, but between Bryant and Duncan themselves.
The Duncan-Bryant rivalry has never been a classic rivalry like a Magic Johnson–Larry Bird rivalry. It’s been more of a respect rivalry, meaning the two have mutual respect and are fueled by each others success. If Duncan wins his fifth championship, he may top Bryant as the generation’s greatest player. On the other hand, if LeBron James and the Miami Heat are crowned for the third straight year, Bryant’s five rings will be superior to Duncan’s four.
Obviously, both players are drastically different in terms of skill set, Bryant being a shooting guard and Duncan being a power forward/center. Where the two players differ the most though, is in franchise stability. San Antonio seems to be the same old Spurs year after year, while Los Angeles’ personnel are constantly changing along with the coaching staff.
Somehow, both teams still have managed to remain competitive throughout the years despite the managerial differences. However, even with Bryant’s history of success in Los Angeles, he recently told Mark Stein of ESPN that he is jealous of Duncan, stating, “I’m jealous of Tim, playing for the same historically great coach for his entire career.”
Before you begin assuming this is shots aimed towards Phil Jackson, just step back and realize Bryant has played under seven different coaches (not including interim coaches) during the entirety of his 18-year career. If my math is correct, that number averages out to be about a new coach every 2.5 years versus Duncan’s one single coach through 17 years of NBA experience. Looking back on it, I’m sure Bryant wished he could have had Jackson coach him all 18 years, the main reason being he has won all five titles under Jackson.
Furthermore, this statement comes in light of a current ongoing head coaching search being conducted by the Lakers’ front office. Learning their lesson from rushing into the Mike D’Antoni hire, Los Angeles has been taking their sweet ol’ time in selecting who will hopefully be Bryant’s final coach of his career. If it’s not, Laker fans are in for a rocky future.