2001 NBA basketball had a very different landscape. The MVP was a PG, who carried scoring titles at a herculean level, but never adapted his game to the benefit of his 76ers teamates. The 2 time NBA champions featured two of the greatest players of all time, coached by the greatest coach of all time, winning despite many self imposed obstacles. And the fad of (European born and schooled players) seemed to signal a new wave of basketball player. Teams like the Dallas Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings seemingly adopted the new euro player into their systems and found success where they , as organizations had rarely seen before. As the decade drew on, Euro players (born and stars internationally made) played well but never brought much success save for 1 team. The fad came and went, names like Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Jiri Welch seemed to be too common for most teams, and many seemed to lose interest in fundamentally sound players who seemed to lack American grit found on concrete school yards across the nation.
The Lone exception of course if the team of the decade The San Antonio Spurs. In a 10 year span, they hoisted 4 titles, most 50 win seasons in NBA history, and have been on the forefront of the new wave of basketball. While many teams gave up on the euro player, the Spurs invested heavily in players like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Fabricio Oberto , Beno Udrih, Rasho Nesterovich. The spurs in turn created a style of play that delivered 3 titles from 2003-2007, predicated on Defense, unselfish ball distribution, fearless shooting from beyond the 3 point ark, and above all a passion to excel. This 1st generation stared eye to eye with Purple and Gold Goliath, and dismissed the 3 time champions in short order. When the upstart Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks tried to eclipse the Spurs, the Spurs time and again answered their challenge and kept them from titles.
Now I see the Spurs are yielding success from the 2nd generation of Euro players. Names like De Colo, Splitter, Diaw, Mills, seem to power the Spurs machine and compliment their for bearers nicely. However the key to the Spurs success has been their seemless blend of American born players and European stars, to play a seemingly new Hybrid form of basketball. Splendid passing and fast breaks predicated on defensive rebounds and steals. 3 guards flying down the lane only to reward the deft hands of a lumbering Brazilian center.
Guards working the pick and roll to scientific perfection rewarding 3 pt shooters on the wing or rolling big men with great hands. American and International players, playing as one seamless unit, powered by the passion for game. This form of Spurs ball to newer fans seems alien and altogether innovative, however to the astute observer, one can see the brilliant Argentinian national team passing to centers in the high post, beautiful cuts and set plays that beat NBA All Stars in 2002. Spurs Fans may recognize the suffocating defense from 1999 that grew out of gang rebounding and smart players making the smart plays. Fans of basketball have seen the same level of play from Showtime Lakers , Boston Celtics, and New York Knicks of the early 1970s. We are aren't seeing anything new, its just the make up of players that is truly innovative and what has kept the spurs one step ahead of the rest of the league.
Epilogue: The Chief Architect and Foundation of the success don't mind hiding in the shadows, their multiple MVPs and Coach of the Years speak for themselves.