The Spurs won the West on Monday night. They beat the Grizzlies to finish a four-game sweep, and now it’s back to the NBA Finals for San Antonio, for the fifth time in 15 years and the fourth time in 11 years.
And it’s time we started considering Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — the three veterans left from the 2003 NBA title team — the greatest trio of teammates in NBA history. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are in their 11th season together, and they’ve won three NBA titles, never had a winning percentage below .600 and are headed back to the NBA Finals.
Who else has lasted this long together while playing this well?
The Lakers of Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor? They were together four seasons, and in the final year, 1971-72, Baylor barely played, because of injury.
The Lakers of Chamberlain, West and Gail Goodrich? Three seasons.
The Lakers of George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard? Five seasons.
The Lakers of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy? Seven seasons.
The Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Derek Fisher? Eight seasons.
The Celtics of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce? Five seasons.
The Celtics of Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Tommy Heinsohn? Seven seasons.
The Celtics of Russell, Sam Jones and John Havlicek? Seven seasons.
The Celtics of Russell, Sam Jones and Heinsohn? Eight seasons.
The Celtics of JoJo White, Dave Cowens and Havlicek? Eight seasons.
The Jazz of Karl Malone, John Stockton and Jeff Hornacek? Seven seasons.
The Bulls of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant? Seven seasons.
The Pistons of Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer? Nine seasons.
The Knickerbockers of Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere? Six seasons.
The Sixers of Julius Erving, Mo Cheeks and Bobby Jones? Eight seasons.
The Bullets of Elvin Hayes, Wes Unseld and Phil Chenier? Five and a half seasons.
The Sonics of Jack Sikma, Gus Williams and Freddie Brown? Seven seasons.
The Royals of Oscar Robertson, Jack Twyman and Wayne Embry? Six seasons.
So only one trio compares to the Spurs. Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale spent 12 seasons together with the Celtics. Let’s compare:
NBA titles: Celtics three, Spurs three.
NBA Finals: Celtics five, Spurs four.
Conference Finals: Celtics seven, Spurs seven.
Playoff series record: Celtics 23-9, Spurs 22-7.
Losing seasons: Celtics zero, Spurs zero.
Seasons under .600 winning percentage: Celtics one, Spurs zero.
The Boston numbers are slightly better — one more trip to the NBA Finals — but if the Spurs win this NBA championship, San Antonio’s numbers trump that. And the remarkable thing about the Spurs is that while Boston tailed off with Bird, McHale and Parish, San Antonio has not with Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. Boston won its three titles with its big three in the first six years they were together, went back to the Finals in Year 7, then never returned. The Spurs were on the same track — three titles in their first five seasons, with no return trips to the Finals. But now comes 2013, SIX YEARS after San Antonio’s last title. And the Spurs are back.
I say Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are the greatest trio of teammates in NBA history.