- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Staunch reminders of not being up to snuff are present this week. Blazing emblems of success, teams that do not experience the perpetual failure that envelopes Washington sports. Organizations that are mimicked, not mocked. Two teams with enviable status produced from multiple championships.

The San Antonio Spurs were at Verizon Center on Wednesday for a game against the Washington Wizards. On Sunday, the Washington Redskins travel to play the undefeated New England Patriots. For 15 years, those two have dominated their sport, controlling a salary-cap league like spending wasn’t restricted. By combining a Hall of Fame coach with homegrown Hall of Fame players, the Spurs and Patriots are the annual retreads. It’s just that their repeated history often involves confetti and parades.

Players and coaches from both leagues look and admire, especially with San Antonio, an organization that has been able to avoid the public tumult the Patriots have endured. Since 1998, the Spurs have won five NBA titles. They have made 18 consecutive playoff appearances. They have won 50 or more games every full season since Gregg Popovich has been the coach. That was 1997-98.

By contrast, the Wizards have won one title since originally forming as the Chicago Packers in 1961. Since Popovich took over the Spurs, the Wizards have made the playoffs six times and have never been to the conference finals.

The same disheartening contrast exists for the Patriots and the Redskins. Since 2000, New England has four Super Bowl wins. It missed the playoffs twice, though its record has never been at or below .500 under Belichick. When the Patriots did not make the 2008 playoffs, they were 11-5. Were the Redskins ever to hit that win total, it would mark their best record since 1991.

Stability, that ever-fleeting aspect in Washington, is the girder for each. Belichick and Tom Brady have been paired full-time since 2001 under owner Robert Kraft.

“The core is you have an owner, a GM, a head coach and the same quarterback the past 15 years,” Redskins cornerback Will Blackmon said. “That’s it.”

Popovich has been surrounded by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker since 2003. On Sunday, in Boston, that trio passed the Celtics’ triumvirate of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for the most regular-season wins by a threesome in NBA history. Gary Neal, now a shooting guard for the Wizards, spent his first three seasons in San Antonio. He points to the importance of Popovich before ticking off the talent.

“Then, you’ve got Tim Duncan,” Neal said. “He’s arguably the best power forward to ever play the game. Then you’ve got Manu Ginobili, probably the best second-round pick of all-time. Then you’ve got Tony Parker, who for the last 10 years has been one of the best point guards in the NBA. I think you put those four guys together, then you throw in little pieces here and there to fix whatever weakness they may encounter year in and year out, and you’ve got that Spurs train that pretty much keeps moving forward.”

Three weeks prior to San Antonio’s arrival, Wizards coach Randy Wittman brought up the Spurs during a conversation in his office. Like so many others, the Wizards are trying to construct a framework similar to San Antonio. Keeping John Wall and Bradley Beal to anchor the push. Add Otto Porter. Bring in quality veterans. Continue to progress.

“We’ve been able to let it grow,” Wittman said. “Three and a half years now of guys staying together. Making the Nene move, and he’s been here a number of years. Getting [Marcin Gortat] and John and Brad growing. I think that’s important. You look at Duncan, Ginobili and Parker have been together forever, and they put pieces around that.”

Neal makes an important point about the San Antonio revolution: Chronology has been on their side. When David Robinson neared the end of his career, Duncan arrived. Parker came a few years later. Ginobili after that. With that trio nearing their leaner years, the Spurs can turn to Kawhi Leonard and recently acquired LaMarcus Aldridge.

“I think Pop’s done a great job — a little bit of luck — of managing who’s going to be the focal point of the offense and get the big shot or whatever the case may be,” Neal said. “I think their age and their time of coming into the league kind of dictated everybody’s run of being the top player.”

The lack of ego among the big names also stood out to Neal.

“Nobody cared who scored the points,” Neal said. “As long as you won the game, that was the No. 1 objective. I think when you’re monitoring egos, of course everybody in the NBA has kind of been the man since they were probably 12, 13 years old. I think the biggest thing that has helped the Spurs is everybody has had their times to be the man.”

In New England, the plug-and-play ability of the Patriots has turned heads. At running back, they’ve made the transition from Kevin Faulk to Danny Woodhead to Shane Vereen to, now, Dion Lewis. At wide receiver, linebacker and in the secondary, the Patriots are able to find matching pieces. Big names land on the roster on occasion. Randy Moss and Darrelle Revis come. Chad Ochocinco’s stint in New England is one of the rare examples of failure for the Patriots.

“I don’t know what it is about the system, Coach Belichick, he does a great job,” Redskins defensive end Jason Hatcher said. “But everybody is buying in. When I used to watch the Patriots back in the day, they never really got like big-name guys. They just got smart, tough football players and that’s Bill Belichick. That’s his pedigree. Tough, smart football players that buy in. It doesn’t matter how big a name, your celebrity status, everyone just buys into a job and does it well. That system hasn’t changed over years.”

Longevity built through the same parts seems illogical in one facet. If the Spurs and Patriots are using the same primary player to do the same primary things, why haven’t their respective leagues caught up? The reason, seemingly, is that they just end up doing the right thing more often than their opponents. Combine that execution with a superior level of talent at crucial positions, and it can be time to plan the parade.

“At the end of the day, we’re all human, therefore we will make mistakes,” said Drew Gooden, one of three former Spurs players on the Wizards‘ roster. “They just make an extra play or gain an extra inch to make the defense or offense to make a mistake.”

Each organization has turned those inches into titles, so often leaving the rest of their league behind. Just ask the teams in Washington.

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