John Smallwood | Spurs can't earn any respect

Posted: June 11, 2007

SAN ANTONIO - Maybe if the San Antonio Spurs had a player who might be the best ever to play his position, they would get a little more respect.

Oh, yeah, Tim Duncan might be the best power forward ever.

OK, well, if they had an engaging, handsome, highlight-film

player who was engaged to a supermodel or

Hollywood starlet, more people would pay attention to them.

Hmmm, doesn't super-exciting point guard Tony Parker come from France and isn't his fiancé the super-stunning actress Eva Longoria?

How about swingman Manu

Ginobili putting basketball on the map in soccer-mad Argentina or coach Gregg Popovich establishing himself as one of the all-time great championship coaches?

None of that seems to matter.

Despite having won three NBA championships since 1999 and currently playing for a fourth, the Spurs just can't seem to

capture the imagination of

the American public.

The Spurs are in their fourth NBA Finals. Two of their previous three appearances have been some of the least viewed

Finals in NBA history.

And on Thursday, even though it featured the much-anticipated Finals debut of Cleveland Cavaliers Golden Child LeBron James, Game 1 garnered just a 6.3 Nielsen rating, the lowest prime-time rating for a Finals opening game in league history.

And if the Finals opener couldn't beat "So You Think

You Can Dance" in the ratings, I'm sure Game 2 got whacked last night while going head-to-head with the series finale of "The Sopranos."

It's easy to blame the Spurs.

When looking for answers it's hard to ignore that their 2003

Finals against the New Jersey Nets was the lowest rated ever with a 6.5 rating and their 2005 Finals against the Detroit Pistons is in the bottom five with

an 8.2.

The only time San Antonio

garnered double-digit ratings was when it played the New York Knicks in the 1999 Finals.

For their part, the Spurs know they are the Rodney Dangerfield of the NBA. They simply no longer care, and have stopped trying to figure out why.

"The fly-under-the-radar question," Duncan said, "it doesn't matter to us. We're not worried about who gets the hype or what gets the hype. We're worried about winning four games."

The Spurs seem to be victims of their own success from doing things the right way.

Duncan is a superstar who doesn't primp and preen or put his personal wants ahead

of the team's.

That has earned him much

respect on the court but has not garnered him much attention off it.

"I am what I am," said Duncan, who despite being a

three-time Finals MVP is rarely seen in national ad campaigns.

"I don't know how else to explain it.

"I've been the same way all

my life, and it is what it is. But

if you've got some endorsements out there that you can throw my way, I'll take them."

Popovich has three NBA

championships, but he's a

no-nonsense guy who doesn't

get caught up in being a diva

like Pat Riley, Phil Jackson or even his mentor, Larry Brown.

"No," Popovich said when asked if it bothered him that he is not recognized as a slick dresser or given a catchy nickname. "I'm not being a wise [guy], no,

I don't care.

"If I don't care, it follows that

I haven't given any time thinking about why it is."

The irony about the lack of

attention the Spurs get is they

really are the ideal franchise we all dream about seeing.

San Antonio wins championships without the associated headaches that usually go along with sustaining that level of

success.

But instead of being a must-see team, the Spurs have been

labeled as boring and a team whose Finals appearances are easy to pass up in favor of a

reality television show or cable series.

"We're not that kind of team," said Ginobili, who earned an

honored status in his native

Argentina usually reserved for soccer stars after bringing home a gold medal from the 2004 Olympics. "We don't have any shining personalities.

"We are kind of the vanilla of the NBA, so probably it doesn't draw much attention. There's nothing wrong with it. I think we all like it. It's a good vanilla. It's not a boring vanilla."

No, vanilla isn't boring, especially when it's already accented by three diamond-encrusted gold rings with a fourth possibly on the way.

"Maybe if we win one more time," Parker said about the Spurs getting the recognition they deserve. "That's what you need, to win championships to get credit."

The Spurs already have done that, but it still hasn't seemed to matter. *

Send e-mail to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

http://go.philly.com/smallwood.

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