Some NBA fans in 2017 may not know that a San Antonio Spurs / Phoenix Suns rivalry was once a thing. Those historic meetings where we brought the hate to a new level? Those were a decade ago. If you’re around friends or family just picking up the game this holiday season, make sure you educate them on the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals NBA Finals.
It may help add some context to the imminent return of Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year has not played this season courtesy of “right quadriceps tendinopathy.” Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News is reporting that Leonard could make his 2017-18 debut Saturday when the Spurs travel to Phoenix.
Is it possible that Greg Popovich doesn’t want Leonard to make his season debut Friday against Boston because the Spurs play a lesser opponent on Saturday? Or that he would prefer to start things on the second game of a back-to-back? Of course it’s possible. Is it possible Pop is trolling Suns owner Robert Sarver? Yeah, that’s also possible. Or at least it’s what I’m going to believe to generate a little more interest in a Devin Booker-less Suns team hosting the Spurs.
One of the many turns that the Phoenix-San Antonio feud has taken in the last ten years includes Sarver apologizing for the product the Spurs put on the floor. Three years ago Pop had half his team stay in San Antonio, due to a variety of injuries, rather than travel to Phoenix for a preseason matchup. That led to Sarver grabbing the mic during a timeout and addressing Suns fans in attendance.
"Hey, everybody, I want to thank you for coming out tonight," Sarver said. "This is not the game you paid your hard-earned money to watch. I apologize for it. And I want you to send me your tickets if you came tonight with a return envelope and I've got a gift for you on behalf of the Suns for showing up tonight. Thank you."
After the game he defended the gesture:
"I just felt that the fans paid good money for the game and they didn't see the players that they anticipated seeing," Sarver saidt. "It was just a gesture to let them know that we appreciate their support and want to do something to compensate for that."
And then Popovich said his part:
“As I said, the silliness begins,” he said. “Most wise individuals would check facts before they made statements. Unless you’re interested in putting on a show. In that case, the facts get in your way, as in this case.
“We had five guys we didn’t send. Patty Mills had a shoulder operation over the summer. Tiago Splitter (calf) has been out the whole preseason. Kawhi Leonard (eye infection) was out and is still out for 10 more days. The other two, Duncan and Ginobili, are two of the oldest guys in the league who just came back from a 13-day European trip.
If you already knew that story, I hope it brings back fond memories. If you didn’t, I hope you learned something. I don’t think Pop specifically targeted a Phoenix return from Leonard. But we all know it’s something he’s capable of. Is this thing really a rivalry anymore? I still hate them. But I don’t think that alone a rivalry makes.
Spurs at Suns, Saturday at six.