MIAMI — Heat-Spurs II isn’t just compelling basketball with more stars than the Hollywood Walk of Fame
It’s also a source of hope for all the past-their-prime weekend warriors holding down gyms across the country.
Put another way: this might not be your father’s NBA, but it’s certainly your older brother’s.
Just how old is this title bout? Skeptics have tried to put Dwyane Wade out to pasture for a couple years now, and he’s not even one of the eight oldest players in the series.
“It is encouraging,” said Wade, 32. “Obviously, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t know the breakdown if guys are playing longer now. I think the thing is, guys are still very effective, the older they get.
“Obviously, (I’m) getting a chance to see it with my teammate Ray Allen,” Wade continued. “You see a guy like Shane (Battier) who plays as long as he wants to. You see Tim Duncan. Manu Ginobili is what? 35, 36? And still being able to be Manu Ginobili. … I’m 32. I’m right in that range. To see the guys who are able to play 36, 37, 38 and still be effective, that keeps me smiling.”
Be it medical breakthroughs, better maintenance or a few sips from the Fountain of Youth, “old” has been redefined not just in basketball, but in most all the major sports. The Broncos and Patriots are two of the four NFL teams Las Vegas believes most likely to reach the Super Bowl. Their quarterbacks — Peyton Manning and Tom Brady — are 38 and 36, respectively.
But no sport relies on athleticism and explosiveness more than basketball, which is essentially a 48-minute sprint up and down the court every night. You might think you would need young legs to succeed. You would be wrong.
It’s not an anomaly. Despite the short-term spikes and dips, the average NBA career length has grown steadily during the past 65 years.
While this season’s All-NBA team has not been announced, two of the five on last season’s first team were 34 or older (Duncan and Kobe Bryant, who has since signed a $48.5 million contract extension).
The Heat is back in the Finals for the fourth season in a row, even though it was the oldest team in basketball, and the only one whose average age was more than 30. The Spurs were nearly as long in the tooth; their average age was 28.5.
This is nothing new in Miami; the Heat was actually older by nearly a year in 2013. The team has nine players with 10 or more years of experience. And assuming he stays healthy, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that LeBron James plays 20 seasons.
As for the Spurs, they have four players with at least 10 years of experience. All play significant minutes. None is younger than 32. Duncan, one of the best power forwards in history, is 38. Ginobili turns 37 next month.
Duncan is no longer the dominant force in the post that he was earlier in his career, but he’s still hugely productive. His scoring (15.1 points per game) and rebounding (9.7) were actually better this season than they were three years ago.
“A guy like that, he just continues to figure out ways he can help his team and help himself continue to be an effective player out there on the floor,” James said of Duncan. “I think we get caught up in our sport, or in sports in general, with how old you are instead of what you’re capable of doing. He’s definitely defying that.”
Battier, the sharp-shooting swingman, has decided his 12th season will be his last. While coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t tip his hand on who will start at the other forward spot in Game 1 on Thursday, many believe it will be Battier or Rashard Lewis. Both celebrated their 30th birthday in the previous decade.
Including playoffs, Battier has faced the Spurs 60 times in his career — nearly three-quarters of a season.
“I know San Antonio well,” he said with a chuckle. “I don’t think there’s been a better-coached team in the course of my career, from Year 1 to Year 13, for me than the Spurs. Everybody talks about the Spurs’ culture, but those guys, it seems like no matter who you plug in there, they move the ball, make shots, they play great team defense. They haven’t had a whole lot of weaknesses over the last 10 years. Every time you beat them, you feel great. You know you’ve earned it.”
— James expressed some disappointment over being kept off the NBA’s first-team All-Defensive Team, but scoffed at the idea that it will add fuel to his fire.
“I don’t need any more motivation,” James said. “I have enough motivation. I’m going to explode if I had any more motivation.”
—Spoelstra praised the league’s decision to switch NBA Finals format from 2-3-2 to 2-2-1-1-1, but objected to how it has been implemented. Most specifically, he doesn’t like the two off days between Games 1 and 2.
“If it’s going to be like this, the whole point of it is to have those extra days as travel days, not in between, when you’re in the same city,” Spoelstra said. “The logic of it doesn’t make sense, of how it’s actually executed, but the idea of it, that’s the way it should be.”
—Spoelstra, opining on Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: “One of the best to ever do this.”