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SA’s Torchbearers: Keepers of the Spurs Flame

You know what is just a mere 78 days away?

No, that’s not how far away this year’s Tax Free Weekend is. But someone please let me know what weekend that is.

2012 Olympic Flame lit in Olympia, Greece

The 2012 Olympic Flame is lit in Ancient Olympia, Greece, on May 10. Destination: London's Olympic Stadium. Courtesy: Milos Bicanski/Getty Images

On July 27, the 2012 Summer Olympics will kick off in grand style in merry ole London town.  Considering Danny Boyle, the acclaimed director of Slumdog Millionaire and Trainspotting, will produce the Opening Ceremonies, one can expect the grandest kind of grandeur available. Today, though, a much more reserved and subdued event jump started the whole shebang. The Olympic flame was lit in Olympia, Greece, kicking off the torch relay that will go from runner to runner until making its way into Olympic Stadium.

And as the Spurs sit and await the Clippers or the Grizzlies to finally win their first round series to set up their Western Conference semi-final, the lighting of the Olympic flame got me thinking about how the Spurs torch has been passed around over their championship years.

You can place these Spurs Torchbearers on SA’s Mount Rushmore of Champs.  And no, this is not meant to disrespect anything that Ice Gervin, A-Train Gilmore and Captain Late Silas did in bringing Spurs basketball to SA. What this is about is marking the passage of the mythical “Whose Spurs Team Is This” title during SA’s run of four NBA titles.  And David Robinson has actually done this Torch-bearing thing for the Olympics before.

David Robinson Olympic Torch Relay

David Robinson has done this Olympic Torch carrying thing before. Courtesy: Todd Warshaw/Pool/Allsport

1999: Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood

That 1999 season will always be nostalgic to Spurs fan.  Always will the Prince-penned catch phrase “We’re going to party like it’s 1999” be used when the Spurs make a deep playoff run.  And always will this be David Robinson’s team.

Yes, Tim Duncan in his second NBA season had established himself as the best power forward in the game. Yes, Timmy abused the Knicks to plow his way to the first of a trio of Finals MVP trophies.  But Duncan flourished because the Admiral was mature enough to step aside and let his All-World First Mate take the wheel at the offensive end.  Robinson was still a force on the defensive end, free to roam the lane knowing he had a Twin Tower backup to add to his shot blocking ways.

Robinson and Duncan raising the Finals hardware in unison on the Madison Square Garden floor remains an iconic SA image.

Robinson and Duncan - 1999 NBA Finals

Partying like it's 1999: Robinson and Duncan raise the NBA Finals hardware up high for all to see. Courtesy: USA Today

2003: Timmy Time – All the Time

By the time 2003 rolled around, the Spurs torch had officially been passed from David to Duncan.  Rising from the ashes of being squashed by the Lakers 3-Peat title run from 2000-02, Duncan’s second MVP season was easily understandable when you look at his season stats: 23.3 points, a career high 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 blocks per game.

But to return to the Finals, the Spurs had to exorcise the demons Shaq, Kobe and the Lakers possessed them with during LA’s title run. Duncan eliminated the Lakers with a 37 point, 16 rebound majestic performance in Game 6 of the Conference semis.

Yes, this was Mr. Robinson’s last year to roam his NBA neighborhood, but the Spurs were all Timmy, all the time.  The Spurs beat the Mavericks and the Nets in six games each, with Duncan picking up his second Finals MVP honor.

David rides off into the SA sunset with another ring, and fittingly closes out his career on Father’s Day.  Sometimes sports just works out that way.

David and Duncan - 2003 NBA Finals

David and Timmy get that deja vu NBA Finals feeling in 2003. Courtesy: Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated

By the way, did you happen to notice those two foreigners playing guard for the home team?  Those guys named Tony and Manu

2005: “GINOBILI!!!!”

Any true Spurs fan, ok, even the casual playoff-bandwagon-joining-late fan, knows where the above quote comes from.

Charles Barkley made a lot of noise during Hall of Fame career. Sir Charles makes a lot more in the TNT studios in his second career as an analyst.  His #1 best Spurs quote came after he first played against Duncan in a 1997 pre-season game: “I have just seen the future of the NBA, and he’s wearing #21.”

The runner-up for best Barkley Spurs quote? You should know by now: “GINOBILI!!!” Something the Round Mound likes to randomly shout during Spurs highlights, because Barkley loves how Manu Ginobili fearlessly plays the game.  Which happens to be all the time.

Manu Ginobili

Manu Ginobili's game has been described as "Controlled Chaos". Courtesy: NBA Entertainment

By 2005, Manu was not only the Spurs fan cult favorite, it was arguable who was more valuable to the team, Ginobili or Duncan?

Manu had developed into an All-Star selection, not only from his stats, but because of the way Ginobili seems to affect a game that doesn’t translate to numbers on a stat sheet.

Be it the witch-like no-look circus passes, the sneakily quick hands stabbing at balls on defense, or even the place-my-body before any and all harm to take charge after charge, Manu was simply the man.

We all remember Robert Horry’s money 3-point shot in OT of Game 5 in Detroit. Who got Big Shot Bob the ball so he could take that big shot?

Take a look HERE: GINOBILI!!!

 

The Spurs outlasted the Pistons in seven grueling games. The kind of games where if Manu picked up enough votes on press row to win the Finals MVP instead of Timmy picking up his third, no one would have protested.  Ginobili was that good, and that vital, that year.

2007: Manu’s the Man, but Here Comes Tony

By 2007, Ginobili earned enough national respect to be named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year.  Manu manufactured passionate play as soon as he entered the game, and was thought of by some as the mythical ‘Best Player on the Spurs’.

Tim Duncan - 2005 NBA Finals

By 2005, Duncan was in charge of raising the Championship and Finals MVP trophies solo. Courtesy: USA Today

 

But right next to him Tony Parker had evolved into one of the top point guards in the NBA, at least on the court if not in the national media.  The French Flash survived the team flirting with free agent Jason Kidd after the 2003 season.  Parker endured constantly entering Gregg Popovich’s chew-out doghouse.

All the while Tony let his perceived disrespect from NBA ‘experts’ who talked up other point guards in the league fuel him, as he told USA Today back then:

When there is talk about the best point guards, sometimes they don’t talk about me. But that’s not my main motivation, They can talk about Jason Kidd, Steve Nash, Deron Williams and Chris Paul. I still have the most rings.

The Spurs squashed LeBron and the Cavaliers in an NBA Finals sweep, and Tony was crowned with the Finals MVP trophy. The Spurs Torch now held by Manu and Parker, with Timmy guarding their back.

Tony Parker - 2007 NBA Finals

Tony Parker kicks the door in to enter 'Elite NBA point guard status" with his third NBA title and first Finals MVP. Courtesy: Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated

Nobody would have blamed Parker if he might have said, “Prenez ça!”, which means “Take that!” in French.

2012: Tony Takes Over in the Drive for Five

So we fast forward back to the present, as the Spurs have Tom Petty’s “The Waiting” playing on repeat.  The Drive for Ring #5 truck is being driven by their mercurial point guard who is having the season of his career.  Anybody on the Spurs roster you ask, be it Pop, Manu, Duncan or even returnee Stephen Jackson will say, “This is Tony’s team.”

And in a long, rambling answer Parker gave after Game 1 of the Jazz series shows Tony knows that as well, even if he won’t shout it out. The long, winding response Parker gave included this little quick phrase: “And in the process it sort of became my team…”

Sort of?  Without Parker this year, SA might have won 40 games. Because of him, the Spurs instead are now popular picks to party like it’s 1999 yet again.

The Spurs Three Amigos

The Spurs Three Amigos are saddled up in the Drive for Ring #5 in 2012, while keeping the Spurs Championship flame burning bright.

Anyone know where the Olympic Torch relay will be in mid-June?  There might be a Riverwalk Parade taking place in SA where there are a few guys who are pretty comfortable carrying the flame.

After all, that’s what they’ve done for the Spurs during this title era.

About Maury Vasquez

Maury Vasquez is part of San Antonio's sports history and tradition. Vasquez worked with the KENS-5 Sports team under the legendary Dan Cook in the 90's before joining the top rated news team at KSAT-12. His career in broadcasting expands over 20 years in San Antonio and South Texas. Today, Maury works full time as the Public Information Officer for Somerset ISD giving a voice to the Bulldog Nation of students and staff. And his love for sports continues, by co-hosting "Longhorns Unplugged" on Ticket 760 AM along with co-hosting the "SASports.com HS Football Scoreboard Show". You can also find Vasquez Saturday mornings at the Mays Family "Field of Dreams" next to Wolff Stadium, where he serves as the announcer for the Miracle League baseball spring and fall seasons. Maury Vasquez is a native of Mercedes, TX from the Rio Grande Valley who has called SA home since 1992. He is also the proud father of two children, Valerie and Mauro IV. Maury writes for AlamoCityTimes.com about whatever moves him in the world of sports to the game of life, and just about anything in between.

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