Most champions would admit that a bit of luck is necessary to win a title. Look at the Miami Heat 2013 NBA Finals victory, when multiple “mini-miracles” occurred at the end of Game 6. The climax, certainly, was Ray Allen‘s memorable three-pointer in the right corner to tie the game after a loose ball found his hands with little time remaining. Similarly, the San Antonio Spurs have been aided by good fortune, although in a completely different way, in their own run at dominance. Specifically, the perfect outcome for San Antonio with regards to two specific instances has facilitated their illustrious run at greatness.
One of these franchise-altering instances took place at the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery. The team that won this lottery would almost certainly draft Tim Duncan, a Wake Forest star who was coming off averages of 20.8 points and 14.7 rebounds per game. It was obvious that selecting him was a no-brainer for any team looking to improve. The Boston Celtics had the best chance to win the lottery at 36 percent, while the Spurs had only the third best odds. Surprisingly, San Antonio won the lottery and selected Duncan first overall. Duncan, now united with coach Gregg Popovich, w0uld later become one of the best player-coach duos in NBA history. Without a substantial amount of luck in 1997, however, the combination would never have been formed.
The next instance may not be seen as “luck,” but good fortune definitely played a part in the outcome. In 1999, Popovich’s coaching had come under fire as San Antonio started off with a 6-8 record and had lost five of their previous seven games. Popovich’s job was hanging in the balance, and a loss to Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets would almost certainly have him fired. In the end, the Spurs won the game, jump-starting the team to a 37-13 regular season record. San Antonio won the NBA Finals that year, just the beginning of Spurs’ up and coming dynasty.
Today, Popovich has leaped into the conversation of the five greatest coaches in NBA history. It is almost unthinkable to consider that with one regular season loss, Popovich would have been relegated to duties as a general manager. Fortunately for the Spurs, Popovich has gone on to coach some of the most efficient, selfless offensive basketball the league has ever seen. He has salvaged numerous careers, most recently Boris Diaw, Patty Mills and Danny Green. Popovich, almost always seen with an angered look on his face, will eventually be able to look back proudly at his distinguished career with the Spurs, even if he was one game away from losing his position as head coach.
Looking back at the past 17 years, the Popovich and Duncan combination can be most easily described as a match made in heaven. Certainly, good fortune has been involved in the Spurs’ success, making it look as if the duo was just meant to be.