The Silver and Black have proven that you don’t need to be a big market team to achieve success, winning a total of five NBA titles since the beginning of the new millennium.
The team’s long-time head coach Gregg Popovich is one of the most respected tacticians in all of professional sports, while their legendary trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are considered the most low maintenance superstars of all time.
While the Texas-based franchise has managed to keep a low-profile even during their championship years, the Spurs also haven’t escaped several controversies along the way.
Here are three of the most shocking scandals in Spurs’ history.
Normalizing “load management”
While almost every team in the league does it nowadays, it’s clear that it was Popovich and the Spurs that birthed what is now called “load management”.
Long before the term was even coined, Pop has been giving his superstars DNP’s even when they are medically cleared to play. The idea is to give players (especially aging ones) the night off, particularly on the second night of back-to-backs.
The NBA regular season, after all, is an 82-game grind and contenders would love to keep their players healthy for the postseason.
The Spurs were heavily criticized back in 2012 when San Antonio’s Big 3 was supposed to clash with the Miami Heat’s own three-headed monster of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh in a regular-season match. While the game was highly anticipated, Pop decided to not use Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, and even Danny Green.
What was supposed to be a heated game between two of the best teams in the league turned out to be a lackluster affair.
“It’s the last game of a long road trip, my stars are aging veterans, and we probably won’t beat the Heat in Miami anyway, so I’m going to think long-term and give my best guys a day off,” Pop said at the time.
There’s really nothing wrong with Popovich’s “live to fight another day” approach. However, it somehow draws the line between NBA players’ obligations as entertainers and competitors.
Fans who availed tickets that day certainly didn’t get their money’s worth. Some travel ridiculous distances to catch a game live, only to watch a bunch of role players on the floor while the star attractions are glued to the bench.
In hindsight, the Spurs’ success during the Duncan era might have a lot to do with Pop’s decision to give them nights off on multiple occasions.
That trio was indeed celebrated for its longevity and ability to remain productive even during the twilight of their careers. Kawhi Leonard, another product of the Spurs’ system, even infamously sits out back-to-back now that he’s with the Los Angeles Clippers.
The poor handling of Leonard’s injury
Speaking of The Klaw, Leonard was supposed to carry on the Spurs mantle for years to come.
He was, after all, the perfect candidate — a soft-spoken two-way star who was living proof of how effective the team’s system was in terms of developing talent. While the Leonard and the Spurs organization were complimenting one another in their first six years together, that all changed in a span of 18 months.
Leonard sat out at the beginning of the 2017-18 season due to a nagging quad injury. While Pops was supportive at first, it was evident in his comments to that media that he was growing impatient and wanted him back as soon as possible. The 6-foot-7 swingman returned by December and managed to play nine games before citing complications with his injury.
He was his usual productive self during that stretch and Spurs’ medical staff actually cleared him fit to play. Once word got out that Leonard might be feigning his injury, Pop, along with Leonard’s teammates Ginobili and Parker aired controversial comments to the press.
Leonard’s camp was reportedly furious over Parker’s words, which ultimately soured his relationship with the team.
Tony Parker on his return from the career-threatening quad injury he suffered last May: I’ve been through it. It was a rehab for me for eight months. Same kind of injury (as Kawhi), but mine was a hundred times worse. But the same kind of injury. You just stay positive."
— Tom Orsborn (@tom_orsborn) March 23, 2018
Pop continued his passive-aggressive approach, praising his players while seemingly taking endless swipes at his injured star.
Leonard felt so disrespected by the Spurs’ distrust that he didn’t even want to play the remaining year on his contract.
He made it clear that he wants out by June 2018, citing both LA teams as his preferred destination. Instead, they shipped him out of the border to the Raptors. Leonard eventually got the last laugh, as he led Toronto to its first-ever title last season.
Popovich made more headlines even upon trading Kawhi, claiming the Leonard was “not a leader”.
Parker’s supposed affair with teammate’s wife
This right here was truly a scandal that cost Tony Parker his three-year marriage with Eva Longoria. The TV star filed for divorce in 2010 after finding out Parker’s alleged affair with Erin Barry — the ex-wife of TP’s former Spurs teammate Brent Barry.
The Parkers and Barrys even hung out together as couples, before Tony supposedly engaged in a “sexting relationship” with Erin. Reports later claimed that the two were definitely flirtatious with one another but never engaged in anything physical.
The affair reportedly began at a time when both Tony and Erin were dealing with problems in their respective marriages. Longoria later revealed that Parker also cheated early in their marriage with another different woman.