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Sorry, Suns fans: I can’t help but respect the Spurs

If you’re a fan of the Phoenix Suns, you’ve got a lot of reasons to hate the San Antonio Spurs.

While the Suns are still seeking the first championship in their 45-year history. The Spurs, a team who joined the NBA nine years after Phoenix did, has four of them.

The Suns have never had the number one pick in the draft. The Spurs have won the NBA Draft Lottery twice, landing Hall of Fame-quality big men that altered the future of their franchise each time.

On the way to three of their championships, the Spurs ousted the Suns from the playoffs — often in painful or controversial fashion.

Who can forget the cut on Steve Nash’s nose that wouldn’t stop bleeding in Game 1 in the 2007 Western Conference Semifinals? Nash bonked heads with Tony Parker in the final minute and the Suns down two. With Nash on the bench for most of the remaining time, they’d go on to lose by five.

Who can forget Robert Horry’s dirty hip check on Steve Nash in the closing seconds of Game 4 of the same series? Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the bench, got suspended and the Spurs won the series in six games.

Tim Duncan’s three-pointer in Game 1 in 2008? Ouch. The guy hadn’t made a three all year and then he sinks one to send send the game to overtime? Seriously? You can’t write this stuff. The Spurs would win in five games.

Don’t even get me started on Bruce Bowen.

Like I said, there are plenty of reasons to hate.

Then why I am I pulling for the Spurs to beat Miami and capture their fifth NBA championship?

It really boils down to a matter of respect. And before you attack me, let’s be careful not to confuse respect and admiration.

Remember the scene in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, where Ron is climbing the ladder out of the bear pit after saving Veronica Corningstone from certain dismemberment? His rival, Wes Mantooth, blocks his way off the ladder and says, “I hate you, Ron Burgundy. I pure straight hate you. But damn it, do I respect you.”

That’s how I feel about the Spurs. I can’t stand them. But how can I not respect what they’ve been able to over the course of a decade-plus? The three-headed monster of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili has been together for 11 seasons. And 11 times, the Spurs have made the playoffs, winning three championships.

It doesn’t matter who makes up the supporting cast — from Sean Elliott and Avery Johnson to Malik Rose to Brent Barry and Michael Finley — they just keep on winning.

Championship windows are supposed to close, right? Not for San Antonio. Seven years after their last Finals appearance, they’re back — a fact that equally perplexes and impresses me.

Even the strategy to keep their big three together is painful to Suns fans. Remember, it was Phoenix who swept the Spurs out of the 2010 playoffs on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Many believed that would be the Spurs’ cue to finally ‘blow it up’ and start the rebuilding process. Instead, they stood pat with their seemingly ageless trio of stars and the Suns dismantled their own roster.

Three years later, the Suns haven’t sniffed the postseason since and the Spurs are four wins away from raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy…again. It only makes me wonder what would have happened if Robert Sarver and company chose to keep the band together for another run.

Maybe I’m supporting San Antonio because the Spurs have done things (for the most part) the right way. Their nucleus was put together through the draft. They got Duncan with the number one overall pick (rigged or not), Parker in the late first round and Ginobili in the second round. Key contributors Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter were Spurs’ draft picks and Gary Neal and Danny Green were street free agents that San Antonio took chances on. They’re the exact opposite of the team they’re facing in the Finals that was put together with splashy and expensive free agent signings.

The Miami Heat represent a lot of what’s wrong with professional sports, yet most Phoenix fans would like to see them prevail because they’ve never done anything to harm the Suns. I asked Arizona Sports’ Facebook friends if they could root for the Spurs against the Heat. Here are some of the responses.