And the playoff plagues – Westbrook’s torn meniscus in 2013; Ibaka’s strained calf now – are a blessing in a way. They have given every Thunder a chance to view what life is like on a diminished team. It ain’t pretty.
Popovich, the Spurs’ coach since 1996, doesn’t claim credit for the San Antonio organization. He says the Spurs are the beneficiary of unique players.
“I think it’s totally dependent on the character and the quality of the players’ mindsets,” Popovich said. “I can’t will that onto somebody. Sure, I’m a maniac, and I’m going to stick to it, because I’m just built that way. Could be right, could be wrong. But I’m not out there playing every day … to have that dedication and that fortitude to come back every year and be the best team you can be by playoff time, it takes character and mental toughness.”
The Spurs’ trio fended off all invaders. Bigger-money contracts. Chances to be The Man in Denver (Ginobili) or Atlanta (Parker) years ago. General restlessness. They keep coming back, year after year.
It’s hard to win in the NBA. The Spurs know that better than anyone. An NBA source said the ageless trio doesn’t talk about it much, but they are very proud of their legacy, proud of always having a chance to win. Proud that they’ve done it in San Antonio, outside the spotlight of New York or Los Angeles or the drama that goes with the Heat. Proud that perseverance has put them back in the pole position to win an NBA title this season, seven years after their last championship.
“We enjoy playing with each other,” Ginobili said. “We appreciate what we have. We’ve never had issues between each other. That is something that has happened before at other teams. Each one accepted our roles. We did well with each other. We never look to go somewhere, or try new things.”
The Thunder hopes its own special trio is inspired by the ageless Spurs.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.