San Antonio broke the mold first, beating the Knicks in 1999 for their first of four titles. But the Spurs never penetrated the Rucker League-Barry Farm playground conscience like the Kings and now the Thunder.
Because San Antonio’s best player, Tim Duncan, had the partying personality of, well, Spock, the Spurs just never translated like these kids from Oklahoma City. As the NBA analyst Brent Barry, a former Spur, said in the Thunder locker room after Game 1: “San Antonio was like a tank that just kept going. It never got retrofitted; it just kept going. These guys — they have a flair, an attraction.”
Kevin Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter, Russell Westbrook added 27 points, and the Oklahoma City Thunder rallied to beat the Miami Heat 105-94 on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. (June 13)
The Post Sports Live crew previews the NBA Finals and debate whether Kevin Durant and the Thunder or LeBron James and the Heat will win their first NBA title.
It’s actually one of the reasons Commissioner David Stern and the league owners had a protracted labor stalemate with the union and its players that forced cancellation of part of the season — the fear that smaller-payroll markets would never have the TV money to pay off stale contracts and sign numerous players to exorbitant deals to ensure a good team stayed together.
The biggest fear in Oklahoma City this offseason, in fact, is the potential loss of Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, who will command monster free agent dollars.
So many times a team from a small market would become a contender and — boom — there went Stephon Marbury in his prime because he wanted to make as much as teammate Kevin Garnett in Minnesota, where the owner could not afford to pay both.
The hope is they find a way to keep Harden because that would go a long way toward preserving the growing popularity of a franchise that didn’t need to round up everybody else’s best players to be in the NBA Finals.
With no other pro team in town to root for, the crowd was indeed incredible. Louder than Cameron Indoor Arena? Shane Battier was asked afterward. “No, not for a Carolina game. That was like a jet plane,” the Heat veteran and Duke alumnus said. “But for an NBA arena, it’s definitely the loudest I’ve heard.”
That crowd helped its team play an exciting, breathtaking style of ball, just like their small-market predecessors in Sacramento, who came so close but never made it to the NBA Finals. The difference is, the Thunder has the weapons — K.D. and all those scoring sprees — to make this peasants’ revolt permanent, to further imbed the fact you don’t have to sign for big dollars in a thriving East or West Coast metropolis to matter in the NBA.
For Mike Wise’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/wise.