Once the NBA finals had ended and the trophies and T-shirts were handed out, Tim Duncan and LeBron James paused for a moment in the jam-packed hallway to say goodbye and good luck.
San Antonio's center was overheard telling Cleveland's superstar, "The league is going to be yours soon."
Someday. Not now.
It still belongs to the Spurs &
And maybe, a dynasty.
Winning its fourth title in nine years, San Antonio cemented itself among the league's greatest franchises and as the undisputed team of the past decade with an 83-82 win Thursday night and four-game sweep of the Cavaliers.
With their third championship in five years, the defensive-minded Spurs joined the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls as the only teams in league history to win four titles.
"A team for the ages," commissioner David Stern said before handing over the Larry O'Brien trophy to Spurs owner Peter Holt.
MVP Tony Parker scored 24 points and Manu Ginobili had 27 &
13 in the fourth quarter &
as the Spurs held off a frantic rally by James and the Cavaliers, who were overmatched from the start in their first every visit to the finals.
"We definitely faced a better team in this series," said James, whose first finals was both humbling and educational. "They never got rattled. They never sped up. They kept us off balance. I think we learned as good as we thought we were, there was still a team out there that was better than us."
San Antonio's impressive run of titles &
1999, 2003, 2005 and now 2007 &
under coach Gregg Popovich has earned the Spurs the right to be mentioned as a dynasty. But Parker, the first European-born player to win MVP honors, wasn't worried about any place other than one he was living in.
"I don't care where we fall in history," said Parker, wrapped in the French flag. "I just feel blessed, honored and privileged to play on a team like this."
And what a team it is.
In Parker, Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs have three players who can dominate at any time, but it's the clubs reserves who make San Antonio special.
Earlier this season, they Spurs weren't themselves and the ever-demanding Popovich criticized his squad, calling it the worst defensive one he had coached. San Antonio was 33-18 at the time, "struggling" by its lofty standards, but it wasn't long before they started playing Spurs basketball.
The Spurs beat Denver, Phoenix and Utah to win the Western Conference title and then stormed through the Cavs, who were exposed during four games that looked competitive on the scoreboard but were hardly even close.
"This one's sweeter," said Duncan, the common denominator during the club's dynastic stretch. "This was as tough as we ever had it. Guys persevered."
As the final seconds ticked off, Duncan stood at center court with both arms raised triumphantly as the rest of the Spurs danced around him. He sought out Cleveland's Eric Snow, but was unable to find James, who had walked off the floor so he didn't have to watch the celebration.
"I didn't want to look at it," James said.
The final moments were hectic as the Spurs needed every last free throw to hold off the Cavaliers, who made a last stand at home in a season of seasons for their once downtrodden franchise and for a city still waiting for its first title since 1964.
Cleveland went on an 11-0 run to open the fourth quarter, taking its first lead in any second half of the series on James' drive with 7:55 left. Cleveland went up 63-60 on Daniel Gibson's drive, but that's when Duncan and Co. showed why they're champions.
Ginobili scored inside, was fouled and missed his free throw. But Duncan muscled into the lane and tipped in the miss to make it 66-63. The Cavs tied it, but Ginobili, who didn't make a field goal in Game 3, dropped a 3-pointer, and when James missed a 3, the Spurs regained control by outworking Cleveland.
Duncan and Fabricio Oberto scrapped for offensive rebounds as the Spurs kept the ball for nearly two minutes before Oberto's three-point play made it 72-66 with 2:29 remaining. Duncan then poked the ball away from James and Oberto scored underneath to give San Antonio a 74-66 lead.
James, possibly a little tired following the early morning birth of his second son, hit another 3-pointer but Ginobili responded again with a runner in the lane to make it 76-69.
Damon Jones made three free throws and James made another 3-pointer, but Ginobili made four free throws in the final seven seconds and immediately began celebrating a title that was all but inevitable.
"We're an old team. We've been there," said Parker, who averaged 24.5 points on 57 percent shooting. "We knew Cleveland was going to make a run, so we just let the storm go by. We never had panic on our team, never."
Spurs hold off Cavs to clinch fourth title