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SAN ANTONIO SPURS

SAN ANTONIO SPURS. The San Antonio Spurs, a professional basketball team in the Midwest Division of the National Basketball Association's Western Conference, began play as the Dallas Chaparrals, a charter team of the American Basketball Association, in 1967. The franchise played in Dallas for six seasons, moved to San Antonio before the 1973–74 season, then joined the NBA after the ABA folded in 1976. During their six seasons in Dallas, the Chaparrals enjoyed moderate success on the court, twice finishing second in the ABA Western Division, but repeatedly stumbled in the postseason playoffs. In five tries, the Chaps made it past the first round of the playoffs only once, in their first season, but lost in the second round. For the 1970–71 season the team changed its name to Texas Chaparrals in an attempt to gain a wider regional following, but abandoned the experiment after one season. Lack of fan support remained an insurmountable problem. In the team's final game at the Dallas Convention Center, the paid attendance was reported to be only 134.

At this low point in franchise history, a group of San Antonio businessmen, including Angelo Drossos, John Schaefer, Art Burdick, and B. J. "Red" McCombs, bought the team and moved it to San Antonio, renaming it the Spurs. Initially, at least, the changes did not seem to help much. The Spurs got off to a 1–6 start, and only 1,799 people showed up for the Spurs' first win at the HemisFair Arena. But during the season the Spurs made what later proved to be the most significant trade in team history, acquiring the virtually unknown George Gervin from the struggling Virginia Squires. The high-scoring Gervin, nicknamed "Iceman" for his unflappable demeanor, almost immediately established himself as one of the most popular players in the team's history. In the ABA's last three seasons the Spurs finished third, second, and third, but again lost in the first round of the playoffs each time.

The ABA officially folded in June 1976, and four of its surviving teams—the Spurs, the Indiana Pacers, the New York Nets, and the Denver Nuggets—joined the NBA for the 1976–77 season. The Spurs almost immediately established themselves as one of the best teams in the NBA, winning five divisional titles in their first seven years in the league. Gervin, a virtually unstoppable offensive force, led the NBA in scoring four times in five seasons. But the Spurs' playoff jinx continued, as they lost in the first round four times and in the second round three times. In 1983–84, hampered by injuries and coaching changes, the team fell to fifth place in its division and missed the playoffs. That was the first in a string of six mediocre seasons that saw the Spurs finish higher than fifth only once, miss the playoffs three times, and lose three first-round playoff series. But the 1986–87 season, when the Spurs finished with a dismal 28–54 record and missed the playoffs, proved to be a blessing in disguise. After it, the Spurs won a lottery to determine which team would pick first in the NBA's annual draft of college players, and used the top pick for center David Robinson of the United States Naval Academy. Robinson, nicknamed "the Admiral," still had to fulfill a two-year service commitment, during which the Spurs staggered to 31–51 and 21–61 records, but he quickly developed into one of the NBA's dominant players after finally joining the team for the 1989–90 season.

The Spurs' improvement was immediate and dramatic, as they finished with a 56–26 record, and their thirty-five-game improvement over the previous season set an NBA record. Robinson made the NBA all-star team and was named the league's rookie of the year. Nevertheless, the team lost in the second round of the playoffs. The Spurs finished first or second in each of the next six years. Robinson led the NBA in scoring in the 1993–94 season and was named the most valuable player in the NBA the following year. Still the team advanced only once beyond the second round of the playoffs. In March 1993 McCombs sold his interest in the team to a consortium of twelve investors for $75 million, and following the 1992–93 season the team moved from the HemisFair Arena to the new Alamodome. In 1996, as part of the league's fiftieth anniversary celebration, Gervin and Robinson were chosen among the top fifty NBA players of all time, but the 1996–97 season was a disaster for the Spurs, as Robinson missed all but nine games with a broken foot and the team plunged to a 20–62 record and last place in the division. But once again a silver lining appeared. The team again won the draft lottery and chose the powerful Tim Duncan from Wake Forest University. With Robinson and Duncan playing together, the Spurs bounced back to post a 56–26 record in 1997–98, breaking their own record for the biggest one-season turnaround in NBA history. Duncan was named rookie of the year, but the Spurs lost in the second round of the playoffs again. The NBA's 1998–99 season was shortened to only fifty games due to a labor dispute, but the Spurs rolled to a 37–13 record, tied for first in their division, and finally broke through in the playoffs to win their first NBA championship. With Duncan replacing Robinson as the focal point of the team's offense, the Spurs remained at or near the top of their division in subsequent seasons.

The Spurs earned more accolades after the 2000–01 season, when they compiled the league's best record at 58–24 and Gregg Popovich became the winningest coach in team history. The following season Robinson became the team's all-time scoring leader, surpassing Gervin, and Duncan received his first league MVP award. The team also introduced a budding star in point guard Tony Parker, a teenaged rookie from France who was named to the NBA's all-rookie team for 2001–02. The Spurs played their 2002–03 home opener at a new venue, the SBC Center. Compiling a stellar record of 60–22, Popovich was named the NBA's coach of the year, and Duncan earned his second league MVP award. The Spurs won the Western Conference finals and went on to capture their second world championship by beating the New Jersey Nets, following which Robinson retired. Duncan was named MVP of the series. In 2000 the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame bestowed its Pro Team Community Award to the Spurs for the charitable activities of the Spurs Foundation, which had given some $5 million to the children of South Texas. In 2003–04 the Spurs again racked up an impressive record of 57–25, but bowed out in the second round of the playoffs. The Spurs' roster included five international players.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

San Antonio Spurs website (http://www.nba.com/spurs/), accessed May 27, 2004.

Martin Donell Kohout

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Martin Donell Kohout, "SAN ANTONIO SPURS," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xos01), accessed April 18, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.