LOS ANGELES: The NBA’s defining moment in 2014 was supposed to be the San Antonio Spurs return to championship glory, but that was before the Donald Sterling saga took on a life of its own.
With the perfect blend of youth and experience, the Spurs dismantled the Miami Heat in one of the most lop-sided finals in league history, showing the two-time defending champions that the secret to long-term success is strong leadership and developing young talent.
Future hall of famers Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili teamed up to lead the Spurs past the Heat in five games.
For France’s Parker and Argentina’s Ginobili it was their fourth ring with the Spurs. For the Virgin Islands-born Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich it marked five rings together.
Duncan said number five means the most.
“It is sweeter than any other,” he said. “Whether it be because of the time frame or because I am coming to the end of my career or because I can have these two (Ginobili and Parker) here. I can really remember it and enjoy the experience.”
The Spurs dismantling of the Heat in the finals exposed the strengths of one team and the glaring weakness of another.
San Antonio’s future is in good hands with 23-year-old Kawhi Leonard who was named finals MVP in June. The Spurs had better teamwork and more depth, while the Heat put their faith in superstar James.
Miami’s Big Three fizzled in the finals as knee injuries and age appeared to finally catch up with guard Dwyane Wade. Chris Bosh showed just flashes of the brilliance he displayed in the Heat’s two previous championship seasons.
“It was a battle between one-on-one basketball and team basketball,” said Spurs’ Boris Diaw.
Miami made a big splash in 2010 with the signing of James and he led them to two championships and two runner-up finishes in his four seasons there. But it all came to a screeching halt after the 2014 finals.
As if the loss to the Spurs wasn’t enough, the Heat suffered another knockout blow a month later when James jumped ship for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Scandal engulfs the league
James was lauded for trying to make amends with his hometown faithful who burned his jersey in public when he left the Cavaliers after seven seasons in Cleveland.
The glow of the Spurs’ finals victory didn’t last long as the Sterling controversy and scandal engulfed the league.
The Los Angeles Clippers owner was banned from the NBA for life and fined $2.5 million by the league after recordings of him making racist comments to his girlfriend were made public. Sterling was the league’s longest tenured owner at the time.
San Antonio’s success wasn’t the only on-court surprise in the 2013-2014 season. The Phoenix Suns won 48 games, after many picked them to finish in last place. Eventual season MVP Kevin Durant led Oklahoma City to 59 wins despite losing Russell Westbrook for big chunks of the season to injuries.
The Portland Trail Blazers improved by 21 wins and returned to the postseason thanks to strong performances from Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge.
In the East, the Toronto Raptors won the Atlantic Division title behind Kyle Lowry and all-star DeMar DeRozan, while Washington made the playoffs thanks to John Wall’s superb play.
The New York Knicks shuffled their front office and hired 13-time NBA champion Phil Jackson after falling to 37 wins in the 2013-14 season.
Jackson’s former team the Los Angeles Lakers won just 27 games as Kobe Bryant watched from the sidelines, besieged by injuries. AFP