Mission Accomplished The Admiral settles accounts with his critics, sizes up his teammates and savors his long-awaited championship

July 05, 1999
July 05, 1999

Table of Contents
July 5, 1999

Mission Accomplished The Admiral settles accounts with his critics, sizes up his teammates and savors his long-awaited championship

I'm sure a lot of my teammates had a pretty wild party after we
won the NBA championship last Friday night, but I'm the wrong
guy to ask about it. I celebrated by going back to my room at
the Four Seasons in Manhattan and climbing into bed next to my
six-year-old son, David Jr. I had promised him that if we won
Game 5 against the Knicks, he could sleep next to me. He was at
Madison Square Garden, and when we fell behind in the second
half, he was crying because he thought he wasn't going to get to
do it. After we won, he was one happy little boy, but he's still
not quite old enough to really understand what we'd done. The
next morning I reminded him that we were the world champs. He
said, "You mean, like the Bulls?" I said, "No, son, it's not the
Bulls anymore. It's the San Antonio Spurs."

This is an article from the July 5, 1999 issue Original Layout

It's going to take a while for me to really comprehend that
myself. After we stopped the Knicks on their last possession and
the buzzer sounded, all those people poured onto the floor.
Everybody was running around and hugging everybody else, but I
was just dazed. My mind was saying, Is it over? One minute
you're still climbing that mountain, and the next minute
everything you've been working for is right there in your
possession. The suddenness of it can throw you for a loop. That
scene was a tremendous thrill, but I've been at this for so
long--10 years in the NBA--that all my emotion just wasn't going
to come out in one moment. I still have to get used to the idea
that there's nobody left to beat. It's going to take me a month
to exhale.

Those 10 years haven't always been fun, but I've always said
that I've enjoyed the journey, even the hard times, even the
criticism. People try to make you feel bad about your losses,
but if you grow from your failures, they become the seeds of
your success. I've had to listen to a lot of people say
different things about me--that I was soft, that I would never
win a championship because I didn't want it badly enough--and
I'd be lying if I said that it didn't hurt at times. But that
definitely makes winning my first title even more satisfying.
I'm not big on rubbing people's noses in it, but it is kind of
nice, you know?

Before this year, a lot of guys used to get in my face about
losing in the playoffs. Charles Barkley would talk his trash and
end it by saying, "I've been to the Finals." Well, now I can
tell Charles that I've been there, too, and because he lost to
Chicago in '93, when he was with Phoenix, I can say that my
experience was a little better than his. I'm not taking anything
away from Charles or Karl Malone and all the other great players
who have never won a title, but it's a fantastic feeling to know
that nobody can say I'm not a winner anymore.

It's also a great feeling to have Tim Duncan by my side. He's
obviously the best player in the league. Tim was phenomenal
against New York, and his Finals MVP award was well deserved.
The Knicks had no answer for him, and I'm not sure Patrick
Ewing, if he had been healthy, would have slowed him down much.
Tim's like me in that he doesn't show his emotions too much, but
trust me, he was hyped-up for Game 5. You could see it in his
eyes, in the way he moved. Don't ever make the mistake of
thinking that he's not intense.

People have compared the way Tim helped me win my first title to
the way Terrell Davis helped John Elway win the Super Bowl. But
by taking a lot of the pressure off him, I'd like to think I've
helped Tim maybe as much as he's helped me. If we lose, the
media and fans don't point fingers at him; they point at me
because I'm the veteran. That's a nice deal for him. I wish I'd
had that when I was younger. Having another high-caliber player
on your team makes all the difference. You don't feel so
stressed out, like I did early in my career. If Tim goes out and
gets 15 points and eight rebounds, that's not the end of the
world because I'm capable of picking up the slack. During the
eight years before Tim arrived, if I put up those numbers, it
was the end of the world--we were going to lose, no two ways
about it. I love Tim like a brother. He's a precious friend and
an awesome talent, but I think my presence frees him up to do
his thing.

Tim and I knew that with Patrick on the bench because of his
Achilles tendon injury, the Knicks were so small up front that
we should control things around the basket at both ends of the
floor, and that's pretty much what we did. The last play sort of
summed up the series. With 2.1 seconds to go and the Knicks down
78-77, they inbounded the ball to Latrell Sprewell under the
basket. Against most teams he would have had a layup or drawn a
foul, but with Tim and me in the area he just couldn't get off a
decent shot. Throughout the series our size took away too many
opportunities from the Knicks for them to win.

But New York still played us tougher than any other team in the
playoffs. Even though the Knicks were banged up, those guys
fought hard. People say they had no chance without Patrick, but,
to be honest, I don't see how they could have played any better
with him. Without him they had a transition game that made Spree
and Allan Houston much more dangerous. Patrick could have helped
if he'd been there just rebounding and playing defense and not
looking for his shot--like a more talented version of Chris
Dudley--but if he'd been out there calling for the ball, it
would have given the Knicks a whole different look. I don't
think they would have been as effective.

I can really sympathize with what Patrick was going through:
having to sit and watch instead of playing to win his first
championship. I know he told the Knicks to get him his ring, but
if your team wins without you, how are you supposed to feel? Are
you supposed to be happy that they were a better team without
you? I know getting the ring is the be-all, end-all thing, but I
don't think it would have been a satisfying feeling for me.

The Knicks had plenty of talent even without him. In Game 5
Sprewell looked like he was in another world, he was so hot. But
Houston was the guy who really impressed us throughout the
series. He was already one of the better two-guards in the
league, and we really never found an answer for him. Overall,
though, we knew we were the better team and that we could wear
down the Knicks, and Game 4 was the one that really showed we
have a champion's heart. The Knicks had beaten us in Game 3
after we won twice in San Antonio, and the Garden crowd was
really into it; they thought they smelled blood. But before Game
4 our point guard, Avery Johnson, gave us a little speech. He
said that the Knicks had won their one game, that they'd had
their 15 minutes of fame and that it was time for us to go out
and establish control. The key to our 96-89 win was that we had
balanced scoring. In addition to Tim's 28 points and my 14,
Mario Elie had 18 and Avery and Sean Elliott each had 14. When
we get production from our perimeter guys like that, I don't
think anybody can beat us.

The series meant an awful lot to Mario, because he's a native
New Yorker. The Knicks fans subjected him to some pretty rough
treatment with their chanting, but he loved it. We probably
wouldn't have won the title without the energy and passion he
brought to our team after joining us as a free agent this
season, though he ruffled a few feathers along the way,
including mine. I didn't like a lot of the things he said early
in the season, not just to the press but behind closed doors.
Mario would get frustrated after we'd lose a game, and he'd tell
the reporters, "These guys will never win." We started 6-8, and
Mario judged us before he really knew us. He said this team
showed no emotion and didn't know how to win. I told him to just
shut up and play. But Mario's going to run his mouth. That's his
style. I don't have a problem with that as long as you want to
win, which he definitely does. Once he got to know the character
of this team, he became an asset to us.

Except for Tim, we're a collection of guys who people thought
were lacking some quality or other, but our coach, Gregg
Popovich, didn't buy into reputations. Pop made up his own mind
about each of us, and he deserves a lot of credit for that. In
fact, the two guys I'm probably happiest for, besides myself,
are Avery and Sean, because they've had every bad thing you can
think of said about them at one time or another. Sean's also
been injured a lot, and he went through that nightmare six years
ago when he was traded to the Pistons. I wasn't in Detroit, but
every time you mention that city, the hair stands up on the back
of his neck. He was sick part of that season, and I can only
guess at how unhappy he was there.

This championship is gratifying on so many levels, and one of
them is that I think Avery and I have given even more evidence
that having a strong religious faith doesn't mean that you can't
be a tough competitor. I can't overstate how important my faith
has been to me as an athlete and as a person. It's helped me
deal with so many things, including matters of ego and pride.
For instance, I can't deny that it felt weird to see Tim
standing on the podium with the Finals MVP trophy. I was
thinking, Man, never have I come to the end of a tournament and
not been the one holding up that trophy. It was hard. But I
thought about the Bible story of David and Goliath. David helped
King Saul win a battle, but the king wasn't happy because he had
killed thousands of men while David had killed tens of
thousands. So King Saul couldn't enjoy the victory because he
was thinking about David's getting more credit than he was. I'm
blessed that God has given me the ability to just enjoy the
victory. So Tim killed the tens of thousands. That's great. I'm
happy for him.

I'm not totally caught up in the hardware, though. After the
game on Friday night some photographers wanted a picture of me
kissing the championship trophy. I told them that I'm not
kissing anything that doesn't kiss me back. Everybody thinks the
trophy and the ring are the ultimate things, but as valuable as
they are, they're just things. They'll wind up on a shelf
somewhere, but the experience of winning them, the journey, will
be right here in my heart forever. Our guys will take more away
from this season than just the fact that we won the title.
They'll remember how we won it. They'll think about the way we
bonded, the way we trusted in one another day after day, and
that's even more important.

Some people said that whichever team won the title should have
an asterisk beside its name, because of the shortened season and
the fact that Michael Jordan and the Bulls broke up. I say no
way. We went 15-2 in the playoffs, we beat everybody we needed
to beat, and we beat them mighty convincingly. Would I like to
have played the Bulls? Yes. I think we would have matched up so
well with them, especially in the frontcourt. I can't say we
definitely would have beaten them, but I don't think you can say
that they had a clear advantage over us, either.

Before games all year long, we would have our little huddle and
say, "What's our goal? Finals!" It's obviously time to reset the
goals. Two championships would be nice, three would be even
better. I love having the target on my back. It's as if I
finally have what everyone else wants. Let's see them try to
take it away from me.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY MANNY MILLAN COVER Who's Soft Now? BY DAVID ROBINSON The Admiral sounds off on his critics and dissects the Spurs' championship seasonCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY MANNY MILLAN Anchoring the D Robinson and Co. yielded a mere 79.8 points a game to Marcus Camby and New York.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Seeing daylight A deft touch--and a five-inch advantage on Larry Johnson--helped MVP Duncan average 27.4 points.COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Spree for all Duncan and Robinson thwarted countless Knicks shots, including Sprewell's last-ditch effort to win Game 5.

Tall Order

They may not have put up the best combined numbers in history,
but Tim Duncan and David Robinson became the first Twin Towers
to start together for an NBA championship team. Here are the
five most prominent two-pivot combos, based on their
regular-season stats, and how they fared in their teams' most
successful seasons with both of them in the starting lineup.

--David Sabino


Wilt Chamberlain & Nate Thurmond/
1963-64 Warriors 44.6 33.0 -- 49.9 48-32 Lost NBA
Hakeem Olajuwon & Ralph Sampson/
1985-86 Rockets 42.0 22.6 4.90 50.6 51-31 Lost NBA
Bill Cartwright & Patrick Ewing/
1986-87 Knicks 39.2 16.5 2.86 51.4 24-58 Missed
Walt Bellamy & Willis Reed/
1967-68 Knicks 37.6 25.0 -- 51.1 43-39 Lost Eastern
Tim Duncan & David Robinson/
1998-99 Spurs 37.6 21.5 4.95 50.0 37-13 NBA title

*Blocked shots were not an official stat until 1973-74.

"Tim's like me in that he doesn't show his emotions too much,
but he was hyped up for Game 5. Don't ever think that he's not