The San Antonio Spurs. They are the team some of you forgot to hate.
And if the rest of you had your way, they wouldn’t be here, with a rested team after sweeping Utah to reach the Western Conference Semifinals.
For years, the basketball media elite have begged of you to respect the team in south central Texas, because it has managed to shine above larger market teams with shrewd management (R.C. Buford), outstanding coaching (Gregg Popovich), great players (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili), and a wholly committed owner (Peter Holt).
They’ve been the most successful post-Jordan Part II franchise in the NBA and one of the most in all of sports. Fifteen consecutive playoff appearances, 21 postseasons in 22 years, thirteen consecutive 50+ win seasons, nine division crowns, four conference titles, and, most importantly, four NBA championships.
Yet, for becoming the model franchise in basketball, and arguably all of professional sports, the lack of respect for the Spurs tends to get more attention than the actual on-court performance. In fact, in a sporting public that values high-octane offense significantly more than balance or strong defense – until someone needs to make a stop – most completely ignore the fact that these ‘boring’ Spurs had the league’s second-best offense at 103.7 points per game.
Having shifted from a defensively stout group in the earlier part of this dynasty to one of the few balanced teams in the game has done little to change the at-large opinion of the Spurs.
A majority, if not all of this perception, is based on where they play. It’s a bit strange to say that when San Antonio is actually the seventh-largest city in the United States, and the 36th largest television market in the country (out of 210). And while the Spurs built this dynasty in the Association’s fourth-smallest television market – ahead of Oklahoma City, Memphis and New Orleans; cities with relocated franchises – they’ve done so without the high-wattage superstar or an incessant controversy that would attract more outsiders.
When the Spurs made the NBA Finals four times between 1999 and 2007, media members, including those who worked within partner television networks, believed the team was the reason that the championship series experienced all-time viewership lows. However, as pointed out extensively by Paulsen at Sports Media Watch, the ratings performance of each series had deeper context than “they’re so boring!” As he summarized recently, Paulsen said “part of the problem is their opponents also play a fairly non-telegenic style of basketball (’99 New York Knicks, ’03 New Jersey Nets, ’05 Detroit Pistons, ’07 Cleveland Cavaliers).”
Five years after their last title, the perception remains. The Spurs don’t get a lot of national TV appearances, and rarely do you see any of their players lavished with endorsement offers or even league promotions. You’d think that now that the team plays a more up-tempo style of basketball that, naturally, they would have greater exposure befitting of what a mediocre team like Golden State or, an arguably less appealing team, like Orlando has received.
“Maybe the reason the Spurs don’t get good ratings is because the league hasn’t paid money to call attention to how good they’ve been, unlike with LeBron and other stars. No one is trying to hype Tony Parker or Ginobili. I think it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy situation. Which, honestly, it doesn’t seem to be about what kind of basketball a team plays. It’s just about a big market. That’s why the ’99 Finals had a similar rating to Lakers-Nets (higher, actually) and other Finals series. Big markets get ratings, because more people care.”
So, let TSFJ pose a question to you, the reader. Is the supposed dislike of the San Antonio Spurs a result of their style of play, their lack of superstars or their market?
Jason is the editor-in-chief here at TSFJ. In addition to a past life as a research analyst in advertising, television and online media, he spent seven seasons as the New York Beacon’s beat writer for the New York Giants. Jason has written for Yardbarker, Dime Magazine, Decider, Awful Announcing and The Week. He is also a member of his high school’s 4th period gym class floor hockey champions.
He shares more of his perspectives at jasonclinkscales.com.