Asked, in a post-match press conference, , Tony Parker swatted away the question. He seemed insulted by the idea that the team's key members might soon stop defying their age and start acting it. "It's been five, six years you're saying we're too old," he said.
Past it? It does seem an absurd suggestion regarding a team which, making its first Finals appearance since 2007, was on the brink of victory in Game 6 until a remarkable Miami Heat recovery. All the same, , the Heat were clearly the more dynamic team.
"Their athleticism was just tough for us to handle," said coach Gregg Popovich, "and it finally showed a little bit in the seventh game. But they hung in as well as they could."
Manu Ginobili will be a 36-year-old free agent next month, and he has said he is contemplating retirement. . But that performance was an aberration; he generally struggled in the series and he made costly mistakes late in Game 7. If he stays, it is hard to imagine him being more than a bit-part player, provided there is a worthy replacement. Asked if he will quit, he said: "It's not the moment. I'm very disappointed, very upset. I really can't say anything."
Parker is the youngest of the Spurs' Big Three, at 31. He visibly tired in the second halves during these Finals, . He was even on the bench for the climax of Game 7, after a poor shooting performance.
Duncan? He is 37 – "older than dirt", as Popovich put it this month. In the regular season he scored a career-high 82% from the free-throw line, though he has not averaged 20 points per game since he turned 30. He did produce a 30-point, 17-rebound Game 6. But missing a lay-up to tie the game from point-blank range in the closing seconds of Game 7 proved crucial. He knew it, pounding the floor and looking crestfallen during a timeout. A Spurs win would have seen him become only the second player to win the title in three decades.
He has four championships, as many as Shaquille O'Neal and one fewer than the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant. But glory has not diminished his desire or diluted the misery of defeat. "Probably for me Game 7 is always going to haunt me," Duncan said. He is under contract next year and said that he has no plans to retire. Why would he, when he is still effective?
Danny Green, above, was one of the best stories, . The 25-year-old was cut by the Cleveland Cavaliers when a team-mate of LeBron James. He was even cut twice by the Spurs, being given one last chance after he left a pleading voicemail on Popovich's phone. Two years ago, he was playing in Slovenia.
But he cooled off drastically in the last two games: declining from 24 points in Game 5 to only three points on Tuesday, going one-for-five from distance and shooting just one-for-twelve in Game 7. Still, 21-year-old Kawhi Leonard was consistently impressive and looks to be a future star – the most likely to replace Ginobili in the Big Three.
Not that the Spurs galaxy is designed around bright stars – it is more like a group of similar-sized planets, orbiting each other. Popovich said this month: "We've never labelled it as someone's team. It's our team. It's not my team or Tim's team or Manu's team or Tony's team. It's our team."
Plenty of media analysis of this series was Miami-centric – not so much "Spurs win" as "Miami lose". When the Heat struggled, much more newsprint, internet pixels and television chat was devoted to whether James was tarnishing his legacy than to the notion that the Spurs were burnishing theirs.
Duncan might be the greatest power forward of all time, though he does have the most boring nickname in sports: The Big Fundamental. He has said he does not care about the team's low profile:
It has never bothered me. It doesn't matter. We play the same way. We do the same things. It doesn't matter what people say or what people think or how they take us, as long as we're in the mix when we have to [be].
And they almost always are. After the agony of defeat fades, the Spurs can reflect on a proud record of success that is almost unmatched not only in basketball but across the four major north American sports.
San Antonio joined the NBA in 1976 and have won four championships since 1999, behind only the Boston Celtics, the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls. This was their first Finals loss. They have five conference titles and 19 division titles and they have only failed to reach the postseason four times. The Spurs last missed out in 1996-97, when a helpful last-place finish allowed them to draft Duncan with the first pick in the 1997 draft.
The Spurs' results under Popovich bear comparison with the most celebrated and talked-about franchises in America. The Lakers have won five NBA titles in the past 16 seasons and have failed to reach the playoffs only once, in 2004-05. Since Popovich's first full season as head coach, 1997-98, San Antonio have had a winning percentage above .600 every year. The franchise's all-time win percentage of .610 is second in the NBA to the Lakers, with .619.
The New York Yankees have won the World Series four times since 1997 and only failed to make the postseason once. The New England Patriots have made 12 playoff appearances in that span, winning the Super Bowl three times. The Detroit Red Wings, who last failed to reach the postseason in 1989-90, have lifted the Stanley Cup three times since 1997-98.
put the Spurs third, scoring high in many categories but losing points for their arena, AT&T Center, which is on the outskirts of the city, surrounded by warehouses and parking lots, and looks like an aircraft hangar.
Yet Forbes values the Spurs franchise at $527m, merely 10th-highest in the NBA – half the worth of the New York Knicks and the Lakers. Small market? According to 2011 US Census estimates, San Antonio is the seventh-biggest city in the US, with a population of 1.4 million. That is more than twice as large as Boston, Seattle, Denver, Baltimore and Washington. And the Spurs are the only major professional sports franchise for 200 miles.
But the Texas city is only the 37th-largest television market, according to a Nielsen estimate from 2009. This is partly explained by demographics – it's a mainly working-class place with a 60% Hispanic population, hence the relative lack of attention in the English-language media for a city of its size.
Ratings suggest that neutrals are not keen to watch San Antonio because of the perception that they are bland, mechanical and lacking glitz – but will tune in if there is drama. The Spurs' wins in 2003 and 2007 were on average the lowest-ranked NBA Finals since 1976, according to Nielsen. But was the second-highest-rated Finals Game 6 ever on ABC and the network's fourth-highest rated game of all-time.
A small-market team coupled with an anti-celebrity mentality that preaches hard work, teamwork and humility above flair, individualism and glamour? It all adds up to a side that is the Willy Loman of the NBA – liked but not well-liked. The failure to win this year's Finals does not diminish the Spurs' tradition of sustained excellence. It only means that they will continue to be underrated.