Maybe it's because I'm still reeling from this week's "Game of Thrones" episode, but with the start of the NBA Finals upon us, I'm thinking about royalty … and lines of succession … maybe even dynasties.
It's possible we could see a glorious culmination of the San Antonio Spurs era, or the start of a new Miami Heat dynasty. Maybe any mention of a Heat dynasty is premature … but aren't we always premature when it comes to the Heat? How many times have we fired Erik Spoelstra or disbanded the Big Three already, when instead they might have their favorite championship song set on replay for the near future?
Let's start with the Spurs because, for a team that no one likes to talk about, they sure are generating a lot of discussion this week.
For starters, I don't recall the Heat fielding as many questions about their opponent in the previous two NBA Finals. I also think the Spurs have hit a sentimental sweet spot for fans: Not only are they the anti-Heat (which is usually all it takes) but Tim Duncan has been doing this for so long and with so much class that it's natural for people to root for him now, even if they never bothered to before.
The Spurs also provide plenty of material for those of us who get paid to chatter. No, they're not big on power struggles or insurrections against the coach, but at some point sustained excellence is the only plotline necessary. It leads to one of our favorite topics: place in history.
First we need to discuss the terms. I think it takes at least two constant players to talk about a team's era. So let's eliminate Duncan's first championship in 1999 and start with the first of the three he won with Tony Parker in 2003. Winning this one would give them four in 11 years. That doesn't fit snugly within a single decade like Magic and Kareem's Lakers in the '80s or the Boston Celtics of the '60s. Still -- four in 11 years is impressive. And that's all with the salary cap, and at a time when player movement is greater than ever.
So that's the simplest case for.
The case against actually involves the Heat, regardless of the outcome of this series. The reason it's hard to think of the Spurs as a dynasty is that they haven't defined their era. Other teams didn't always have to get past them or become like them to win championships. No team since 2003 has beaten the Spurs on the way to a championship. And although other teams have followed the Spurs' franchise-building template (most notably Oklahoma City), no team that is constructed like them has won. And that's where the Heat come in. Twice Pat Riley has imported superstars, then quickly retooled around them and won championships.
And that's just the most notable disruption of the Spurs' dynasty claims. What about the Detroit Pistons, who put together a team of discards and won a championship, then came within a game of beating the Spurs to take another? Or the Boston Celtics' insta-team that won it all in 2008, the first year with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen?
It feels as if there have been too many championships won without the Spurs' involvement or influence for them to go down as the dominant team of their era.
J.A., when I think of dynasties, I tend to go back to my youth, when I watched teams that seemingly couldn't lose, and it made me cheer maniacally for any team they played against (incidentally, when I think of "Game of Thrones," I think of sleep. It's my Ambien).
The two that stand out the most are the Bulls, of course, from 1991 to '98, and the San Francisco 49ers, who won five Super Bowls from 1981 to 1994, plus, even though I wasn't a huge soccer fan at the time, the North Carolina women's soccer team seemed a lock to win it all from 1982 to 2000 (16 titles in 19 years is just plain ridiculous).
And when you consider true sports dynasties, the top of the list has to include the UCLA Bruins under John Wooden, the Celtics under Red Auerbach, the Yankees that defined baseball in the 1950s and early '60s and the UConn Huskies under Geno Auriemma. Literally unbeatable teams for extended stretches.
So with those kinds of standards in mind, it's hard to call any of the more recently great NBA teams true dynasties.
Magic's Lakers, I suppose, rank up there, even though they never felt unbeatable as long as Larry Bird and the Celtics had a shot against them (yes, I know, the Celtics beat the Lakers only once in three Finals meetings).
That's why it's hard for me to call what the Spurs have been a "dynasty."
Have they been consistently great? Of course they have. Have they been a model franchise? The rest of the league could only dream of having that kind of stability.
But have they felt unbeatable all these years? Not really.
Not when the Lakers, right in the middle of this Spurs run, won three straight titles. Not when, after an amazing regular season, they lost four straight in the conference finals to an up-and-coming Thunder team last year. I'm aware injuries might've kept the Spurs from winning another title or two, but that's just an unfortunate part of the game.
And this next part is completely unfair, but still true: The Spurs' opponents in their four Finals appearances before this one have been less than stellar. The eighth-seeded Knicks in 1999, the Jason Kidd-created New Jersey Nets in 2003, the superstar-free Pistons in 2005 (probably the best opponent of the four) and the LeBron-led Cavs in 2007. The Eastern Conference was considered the junior varsity for much of the Spurs' run.
Again, it's not to take away from their successes, but I have a high standard for what should be considered a dynasty.
If San Antonio beats the Heat in these Finals, then it would be hard not to call them dynastic. But so far, they fall a notch short.
I can't believe you are literally sleeping on "Game of Thrones." That's just as shocking as when Kobe Bryant said he didn't watch it. When I told him he'd enjoy all of the maneuvering for power the show features he replied, "What makes you think I'd like some s--- like that?"
Oh, I don't know, Kobe. Just a feeling.
I could break down a detailed comparison of how the Heat's quest parallels that of Daenerys Targaryen, but I guess it would be wasted on you. Let's just say both of them have their victories, but really haven't done anything worth recording in history yet.
Even if the Heat win this series, we can't talk about them as a dynasty. They'd be the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons or Hakeem's Houston Rockets. Back-to-back champs, but still paperbacks slipped between the large-bound volumes written by the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls.
We can't begin the discussion until the Heat get three -- and they don't have to be consecutive. The problem is, how reasonable is it to expect them to win after this year? Do you have faith that Dwyane Wade's body will hold up? And this is back-to-back years that Chris Bosh has had a playoff setback, as well.
How much more can they wring out of Shane Battier and Mike Miller?
They have required two Game 7s to escape the Eastern Conference finals the past two years. Just imagine a more experienced Indiana Pacers squad next year. Or the Bulls with Derrick Rose back.
It has required a combination of dedication and good fortune for the Heat to reach the NBA Finals the past three playoffs. Yet there's a reason no team has gone to the Finals four consecutive years since the Celtics from 1984 to '87. (OK, maybe that reason is that Michael Jordan kept retiring after three-peats, but still, not even Kobe and Shaq or Magic and Kareem ever made it four times in a row). Keep in mind, playoff runs are longer now than they were in the '80s and '90s, so they exact a greater toll.
The problem is the standards set by the Heat. Reaching the NBA Finals in Year 1 was pretty impressive. It was more than, say, Shaq and Wade did their first year together. Yet Erik Spoelstra still referred to that 2011 Finals performance as a "collective massive failure" the other day.
For once, we shouldn't view the Heat in extremes. Winning two championships wouldn't mean the Heat are on their way to a dynasty. But it wouldn't mean they came up short, either, if they won only two.
You see, there are times when I feel like I'm missing out on something I'd enjoy when it comes to "Game of Thrones."
Then you drop two unpronounceable words like "Daenerys Targaryen" and I'm once again confident in my choice to stay away.
And here are two other words for you that would make a case for Miami eventually having a true dynasty: "LeBron James."
When building something that will stand the test of time, it helps to start with the game's best player in his prime.
It doesn't guarantee anything, of course. But just as Jordan had two separate three-peats with two largely different groups of teammates (Scottie Pippen was the primary holdover), it appears LeBron would be capable of leading a team to a championship even if it didn't include a Chris Bosh or Dwyane Wade.
Not that either one of them would necessarily leave. Riley's plan would include keeping those three and tweaking the roster around them. Of course, that likely would include Bosh, Wade and possibly even LeBron agreeing to less-than-max deals if they opt out in 2014 (more likely just Wade and Bosh, but in this strict salary-cap era, it's essentially the only way a dynasty can be maintained).
If that's the case, you would have to gamble on Wade staying relatively healthy. And perhaps that includes regular-season maintenance programs, a la Gregg Popovich and the Spurs, rather than worrying about regular-season records.
The point is, as long as James is there to anchor Miami's efforts and demoralize opponents (we can assume he'll be even a little bit better the next couple of years), then there's an excellent chance the Heat could have three straight of their own with at least a few more years of being in contention.
We know this much: LeBron won't randomly retire after three titles. He'll go for as many consecutive as he could possibly manage.
And yes, the Heat have weak spots that can be exposed by teams such as the Pacers. But struggling in a playoff series isn't necessarily indicative of future struggles. The Lakers needed a pair of Game 7s during their three-peat. Riley certainly will address the big man void to avoid another scare like that for his team.
But until someone proves LeBron is beatable at this point, the Heat have a strong chance at turning this group into the dynasty Riley envisioned.