Spurs and Pistons resurrect the art of team basketball

by Avni Shah | 6/28/05 5:00am

Game seven of the NBA Finals marked a true classic in the history of basketball, as two teams gritted on through 48 minutes of play. The San Antonio Spurs were just a bit more terrific down the stretch, routing the Detroit Pistons 81-74 and taking their second National Basketball Association crown in three years.

In a game that was full of lead changes, it was apparent that the victorious team would be the one in which all the players, not just one or two, performed to their highest abilities throughout the game.

It was a monumental series for the NBA, as well, hopefully sparking the revival of the long forsaken team-playing style.

As many critics have voiced, this has been the era of the "player-first mentality," where high-paid professionals lack humility, graciousness and even restraint -- as was the case with the Ron Artest incident at the beginning of the season.

It was painful to watch multi-millionaire players complain about contracts, so it came as a relief to this writer that she had the luxury of watching two stand-up teams compete with one another.

Each game was a testament to teamwork, as the victorious ball club in each game would often boast five or more players scoring in double digits and a high amount of assists and steals.

Another clear demonstration of this team-first mentality was the not-so-obvious awarding of the MVP trophy to Tim Duncan. This should not be construed as a critique of Duncan's play, but rather acknowledgement of the fact the San Antonio's selfless play put few in a position to earn such a distinction.

Duncan was strong throughout the championship series, fighting through some troubling free throw percentages as the series prolonged and missing eight-straight field goals before finding his rhythm and dominating the fourth quarter of the pivotal all-or-nothing Game seven.

However, there was also the acrobatic Argentinian, Manu Ginobili, who didn't take the MVP honors, despite his unconventional style and slashing ways. He was the spark of the team, diving for loose balls, and creating phenomenal give-and-go opportunities with teammate and Frenchman Tony Parker.

Twelve-year veteran and playoff specialist Robert Horry also had some backing for the MVP spot, as many believed that this was his best playoff tournament yet. He managed to take the top spot of the all-time playoff three-point record in Game two and didn't look back. He hit the clutch three-pointer in pivotal Game five and drained five trifectas in Game seven, sending daggers when the Pistons were trying to come back in the ballgame.

Regardless of who won the actual MVP trophy, it was clear, as Tim Duncan kept pushing, that this championship was not a one-man effort. Rather, it was the result of a true team. Every player was a role player, and thus, they were able to successfully regained the title that alluded them in 2004.

So, is this just a unique occurrence, or, in fact, has the NBA changed its selfish ways and have players started recognizing that their childish antics were getting old? A look back reveals that the 2004 Athens Olympics proved instructive. The USA, a perennial powerhouse, recorded the ever-disappointing bronze medal, although Carmelo Anthony specifically assured American fans that he would be bringing home the gold.

How did this happen, Carmelo? It is quite simple, actually. Despite the fact that the "stars" of Team USA are absolute marvels over here, we cannot compete with team play that international teams are exhibiting around the globe. America could not push past any other team with the absolute dominance that we had eight or 12 years ago. Even four years ago, it was starting to become quite clear that the United States is no longer the formidable force that it once was.

The scariest fact of the matter is that this country is not less skilled now than it was then. America arguably still has the better athletes. The difference remains in the ability to be unselfish, which the rest of the world has seemed to figure out.

The San Antonio Spurs have figured it out, as well. With four of 13 players on the Spurs roster being international players, the team was the most international squad in the NBA. That unselfish manner, accompanied by an extremely humble leader in Tim Duncan, contributed to their success. Sure, it was the mark of a great team winning the championship, but it was also the mark of dominant global basketball in the United States.