Sports is always in search of something special – rivalries, dynasties, the greatest.
In so many ways, the rivalry between the Lakers and Spurs should qualify as classic.
But the reality of the NBA is that there is one true lasting rivalry – Celtics and Lakers. One franchise has 17 titles, the other 16. They have met 12 times in the Finals with Boston holding a 9-3 edge.
Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson was Lakers-Celtics. Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain is the NBA’s greatest individual rivalry, so it was fitting that the last year Russell played, his team won the title by defeating Lakers with Wilt in his first year in Los Angeles.
Other rivalries come and go – Knicks-Heat, Bulls-Pistons, etc. And a number of teams think they have a rivalry with the Celtics and Lakers, but it is pretty much a one-way feeling.
The Lakers and Spurs, however, have a spirited recent history. It’s not a rivalry that stimulates the masses – perhaps because the Lakers have a greater rivalry with Boston and the Spurs are a small-market team that has never had a passionate national following.
They are beloved in San Antonio, with their proud small market style, and they are content with that.
Hard-core NBA devotees, however, are aware of Lakers-Spurs, particularly as it centers on Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. Bryant arrived in Los Angeles in 1996 and Duncan was drafted by San Antonio in 1997. Since then, the two teams have met six times in the playoffs. The Lakers have won four; the Spurs two.
Each time, the winner went to the NBA Finals. Four times, the winner won the championship.
The matchup has had its share of storied moments – none greater than Derek Fisher’s dramatic shot late in Game 5 of the 2004 series.
That shot gave the Lakers a 1-point victory and the home court advantage in a second round series. It began on an inbound play with less than four-tenths of a second showing on the clock – how much less will always be disputed.
Regardless, less than three-tenths of a second had expired off the clock since an 18-footer by Tim Duncan had given the Spurs the lead. Duncan’s would have been one of the biggest shots in Spurs history – instead, it is a maddening memory in San Antonio.
The Lakers went on to win the series.
In the 13 years that began with the Spurs first title, the two teams have combined for nine championships and there is a healthy competition about who has a rightful claim to the title of “dynasty.” Obviously the Lakers, with one more title than the Spurs, are the leaders in the clubhouse.
(To read the original column on Sheridanhoops.com, click here.)