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San Antonio Spurs

A professional basketball team in the Western Conference of the NBA

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Spurred On

  • Oct 7, 2012
The poor folks in San Antonio are currently undergoing a low self-esteem issue. Here is that storied Texas city, home of the Alamo and a highly rated riverwalk with a well-known and acclaimed hispanic food scene, the eighth-largest city in the country. Yet the National Football League keeps ignoring the place because they're too blinded by the ritz and glimmer of Los Angeles, a city the NFL desperately wants turned into a football city because it's the second-largest city in the United States. Never mind that any shits were barely given when the Rams and Raiders both walked out of the city, with the Raiders in particular pocketing large sums of money.

San Antonio wants a football team. They even built an arena, the Alamodome, in anticipation of getting one. (Not as unique as you would think. My hometown of Buffalo built a baseball stadium in anticipation of getting the Major League Baseball expansion team that eventually turned into the Miami Marlins. The minor league team took residence there instead.) San Antonio is more than large enough to handle a football franchise. They've been ably handling one of the best overall basketball teams, the San Antonio Spurs, a former ABA team, for decades.

The story of the San Antonio Spurs actually begins over in Dallas. Before the popular and celebrated Dallas Mavericks ever came along, Dallas developed a team in the American Basketball Association called the Dallas Chaparrals. Led by Cliff Hagan, the Chaparrals took to the hardwood for the first time in 1967, the first season for the ABA. In their second season, they did pretty good; they went 41-37 and made the playoffs, losing to the New Orleans Buccaneers. But as with all professional basketball teams at the time, the Chaparrals were ignored. After all, Dallas was already home to a football team that, at the time of the Chaparrals' founding, had been around for close to a decade, competed with a second football team that quickly left for Kansas City, and was on its way to becoming one of the marquee teams of the NFL. Basketball? What's that? They all do FOOTBALL in Texas, boy! Catching wind of the fact that they were being ignored, the Chaparrals tried to expand by turning themselves from just a city team into a big regional team by changing their name to the Texas Chaparrals and taking home games to other places, including Fort Worth and Lubbock. They blew that too, and for the 1972 season, they went crawling back to Dallas full time.

The owners stopped spending money of the team, so despite modest success, the Chaparrals were in a deep financial hole by their third season. In the 1973 season, the Chaparrals missed the playoffs for the first time ever. About that time, a group of businessmen from San Antonio worked out a deal which would lease the Chaparrals to San Antonio, promising they'd bring them back to Dallas in 1975 if there wasn't a real, written-in-blood buy at the end. The deal was signed, the team was renamed the San Antonio Gunslingers, and then was renamed again to the Spurs before a single game was even played. The colors were changed from red, white, and blue to the now-well-known Oakland Raiders colors of silver and black, with a small smidgeon of white on the side.

The Spurs attracted 6000 boisterous fans for their first game in San Antonio, a loss to the San Diego Conquistadors. In their first season, they created an identity: Smothering defense. They held opponents to under 100 points 49 times, an ABA record. They finished third, played the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs, and took them to seven games before going down. They only seemed to get stronger as the season pushed on, and they acquired two of the important early players from the Virginia Squires: Swen Nater, who went on to become the Rookie of the Year, and one of their all-time great players, George Gervin "The Iceman." The latter was so big that the ABA tried to put the clamps on it, but the deciding judge was a Spurs fan, I guess. In the 1975 season, the Spurs started off very strong, but coach Tom Nissalke was fired about a third of the way through it because the owners were sick of the boring, defensive style of basketball he was commanding. Bob Bass replaced him, claiming that you can't throw a set offense another pro team for 48 minutes. You need to let them play what he called schoolyard basketball sometimes. Iceman and ABA vet James Silas took that statement to heart, and the Spurs shed the slow defensive image as they went to a 51-33 record and were loved and embraced by San Antonio.

Although the Spurs weren't immediately successful in the playoffs, they were among the best teams in the ABA. Although San Antonio back then had a big population of around 650,000, it was still considered a smaller market because the suburbs weren't all that big. So while the team itself was good, it was large attendance numbers which raised the collective eyebrows of the ABA brass, and when the merger finally took hold in June of 1976, the Spurs were in. On a side note, the three former ABA merger survivors decided to pay the owners of two folding teams, the Spirits of Saint Louis and Kentucky Colonels. John Y. Brown, who owned the Colonels, used the money to buy his way into the NBA through the Buffalo Braves, and later the Boston Celtics.

Merger! New Teams! Skeptics who believe THE NEW TEAMS WILL NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH!!! You know how it goes. Of course, since the NBA hated the idea of the merger that the ABA was actively trying to force, they told the n00bs to get to the back of the line, where they needed to pay their fucking dues! The NBA imposed some very significant handicaps on the Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Spurs, and New York Nets (today's Brooklyn Nets) as a Fuck You. Draft limitations, TV revenue limitations, and entrance fees were part of the penalty. It must have rattled the NBA brass to the very core of their beings that San Antonio managed to go 44-38 in their first season as an NBA team anyway. They also picked up a great new rival with the Houston Rockets. During the 1978 season, it must have pissed them off BIG that the two players fighting for the scoring title were Iceman and David Thompson of the Nuggets. In the 1979 season, the Spurs stuck their fingers in the NBA's face again by making the Conference Championship. They even held a 3-1 series lead, but the Washington Bullets came back and managed to win the series anyway.

In the early 80's, the Spurs were moved to the Western Conference, and continued to post strong records, including several 50-win seasons. Overall, the Spurs managed to reel in five division titles in their first seven NBA seasons before The Iceman, George Gervin, hung up his soles in 1985. After the retirement of their star and face, the Spurs struggles, going 115-213 from the 1986 season to the 1989 season. Their 1989 season saw them go 21-61, the second-worst record in their history. Lightning happened to strike that year, though, because fresh off the 1988 NCAA National Champion University of Kansas came coach Larry Brown! It helped that the Spurs also drafted David Robinson in the 1987 draft. Robinson, however, was locked up in his commitment to the United States Navy, so he didn't get to see any NBA action until the 1990 season. That year, led by Robinson, Brown, Sean Elliott, and Terry Cummings, the Spurs won 56 games, won their division, and made the second playoff round before getting beat by the eventual Western Conference Champion Portland Trail Blazers.

The 90's saw the Spurs rise to greatness again, but they weren't quite able to do a ton of damage in the playoffs. They couldn't get out of the second round. During the 1992 season, Larry Brown was actually fired. Yes, you're reading that right - for once, the team got rid of him before he could reach out in curiosity of other coaching positions and walk off. (He tends to do that. Walk off, I mean, not get fired.) Bob Bass was back to be the interim, Robinson was injured, and the Phoenix Suns swept the Spurs out of the playoffs. There were a bunch of coaching switches throughout the decade, and the Spurs managed to pull the miracle of adjusting to each and every one of them. It wasn't until the 1997 season they were finally set back enough to take a nosedive, with a very serious injury to Robinson which limited him to six games, and Elliott also missed more than half the season. They had signed Dominique Wilkins before the season, but he proved to not be enough to make up the difference. He was meant to only come off the bench, but he ended up leading the team in scoring. The Spurs went 20-62, the worst record ever in their history. It was the third-worst record in the league.

To date, as I write this, it was also their last losing record and the last time they missed the playoffs. Hell, except for the 1999 season, it was the last time they won under 50 games. And the 1999 season was shortened by a strike TO 50 games.

During that fiasco, the coach was fired and replaced by the team's general manager, Gregg Poppovich, who had also been an assistant coach during Brown's years. The Spurs also won the draft lottery, and with the first pick, they took Tim Duncan from Wake Forest. It wasn't long before Duncan came up as one of the league's most potent players. He had great chemistry with Robinson. During the 1999 strike season, the Spurs had the best record in the league once it restarted. They went 37-13 and became the first former ABA team to ever make it to the Finals, winning their first Championship in five games over the New York Knicks. Now, that could easily have been written off. After all, the season was shorter, most of the players decided not to train and fell out of basketball shape, and the Knicks didn't have Patrick Ewing during their playoff run. But the one-two punch of Robinson/Duncan was too nasty a knockout punch.

In any case, the Spurs proved they weren't a fluke during the 2003 season, when they returned to the Finals and pounded another former ABA team, the New Jersey Nets. This was a full season and the Nets were equipped with Jason Kidd, who was playing the best basketball in the league at the time. Any room for doubters about the Spurs was quickly stamped out by this title. David Robinson called it quits after the season, going out on top. Duncan won his second straight NBA MVP award, too. By now the Spurs were regularly dominating the rest of the league, so when Robinson left, everyone else must have breathed a sigh of relief. San Antonio probably hoped the league enjoyed that little relief sigh, because without Robinson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker emerged as stars in their own right to take up any slack Robinson left. Since that 2003 Championship, the Spurs have also taken the title in 2005 in a hard-fought series against the Detroit Pistons and in 2007 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had LeBron James and…. Well, really nothing after him, which is why that series only lasted through four games. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker are still the team's big three, and Duncan is an obvious Hall of Famer who, despite his lack of flashiness or self-promotion, is already ranked among the greatest-ever big man centers.

What we have here is a team that won. A lot, and in spite of the NBA being such an ass about the fact that they were even invited into the league. No, they weren't able to put it all together until they suddenly were, but there are a few teams that have been like that. The Spurs have four Championships, a number surpassed only by the Boston Celtics (17), Los Angeles Lakers (16), and Chicago Bulls (six). The Spurs' record in the NBA Finals is perfect; they're 4-0. Only two teams in the league have been through more than one Finals series and maintained a perfect record all the way. The other is the Bulls, who are 6-0 in the Finals. They have one of the highest winning percentages in league history, and have only missed the playoffs four times. They've won 18 division titles, and they even hold the record for most 50-win seasons in a row, with 13. Since last season only went 66 games, that's one hell of a trick.

Unfortunately, a lot of the team's success has come at the expense of exciting basketball. I don't mind the fact that Spurs players have very rarely been Hollywood divas. (They did have Dennis Rodman for a little while, though. It didn't end well.) Don't forget, Tom Nissalke was fired in the team's early years not because he was a bad coach, but because his style resulted in some of the most boring basketball in the league. Gregg Poppovich followed suit. My first NBA Finals series was a terrible, stoppage-laden Finals between the Spurs and Nets in 2003, and it put me off so bad that I initially ignored most of the league for several more years. Fortunately, some new rules opened the game up more, and the big three of San Antonio are being allowed to play to the extent of their abilities again, so they're not quite as boring as they were when I started trying to follow the NBA.

George Gervin, The Iceman himself, is still a very revered face of the Spurs. But they've had a steady stream of talent spread throughout their time in the league. The Iceman is in the Hall of Fame, an honor he shares with others Spurs like Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, David Robinson, Dennis Rodman, and Dominique Wilkins. Of those names, only Iceman and Robinson are there based on their San Antonio careers. Gilmore spent a long enough stint in San Antonio to have also made a huge contribution, so he can count too, but his time with the Chicago Bulls was longer by about a hair. Tim Duncan is sure to follow once he's finished, and things look promising for Tony Parker as well. Manu Ginobili has an outside shot at the Hall, but I wouldn't bet the farm on it yet. Johnny Moore, Avery Johnson, Bruce Bowen, James Silas, Sean Elliott, Gervin, and Robinson are all honored with retired numbers.

Robinson and Duncan, being the most dominant players in team history, dominate the individual honors. Robinson was a league MVP once, Duncan twice. Both were Rookie of the Year too, which pretty much makes their Rookie First Team selections automatic. Both of them, along with Alvin Robertson and Bruce Bowen, have been named to the first and second All-Defensive teams. Duncan was a Finals MVP while Robinson was Defensive Player of the Year. Ultimately, the Spurs eras revolve around first Gervin, then Robinson, and now Duncan.

Since San Antonio is not a traditional large market, the Spurs have kind of existed on the side. They never had a big-personality transcendent. They might have had a couple considering how well they've done, but it seems like they prefer to just play basketball. Unfortunately, this means a lot of what they do sort of disappears in smoke puffs, and the team and fans are forgotten. I have to go on the negative side for their lack of any big time moments which are identified with names of their own in NBA lore and that fact that they play so defensively and slowed the game down. Still, don't let my rating get in the way. If you're an adopting fan, you'll win a lot if you're willing to take more boring games than necessary and want to hang around on the sidelines while Celtics and Lakers fans keep duking it out.

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Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #17
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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