By Keith Antigiovanni
As someone who is not a Spurs fan or even much of a basketball fan but I am aware that San Antonio have been a winning team for almost the past quarter century with very little fanfare of the years.
I have also noticed that there are two types of basketball fans, the first are true fans who follow their team and know very much about the game. The second type of fans are the ones who follow the "Big Market" or winning teams and get most of their information from ESPN.
The true fans along with the basketball people (people working in the NBA, coaches, general managers and former players) seem to rate the Spurs very high but the second types (bandwagoners, casual fans and media) seem to rate them very low or ignore them altogether no matter how much they win.
San Antonio has won so often over the years that it has now become conspicuous when they are left out of the conversation of great teams past and present. The media spends a lot of time talking about the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks because of their winning history and/or television market size.
The Lakers and Celtics are understandable because they are the two most successful NBA franchises of all-time, the Bulls are big market and had a great run in the 1990's, the in-state rival Mavericks have a winning record all-time, made 2 finals and won an NBA title which is good but not when compared to the Spurs, but why all this talk about the Heat and the Knicks?
The Heat do not have a great history (919-935) but have been to two finals and won a championship while the Knicks are a mediocre franchise (2525-2556) all-time with 2 NBA titles but none since Richard Nixon was the Commander-In-Chief.
The media is missing the boat on what is an NBA success story in the Spurs and the millions of potential viewers throughout the state of Texas and the Southwest region of the United States.
The Spurs history and market-size are often thought of as modest but their tradition goes back longer than the casual fans think. The Spurs franchise began in 1967 a few hundred miles to the northeast as the Dallas Chaparrals, a charter American Basketball Association franchise. The Chaparrals were a decent team but could not gain a foothold in football crazy Dallas and moved to San Antonio in 1973.
In their 9 ABA years the Dallas/Texas/San Antonio franchise made the playoffs 7 times but did not win an ABA title. In 1976 they were one of the four ABA teams (Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets) that moved to the NBA. From the time they joined the older league the Spurs were winners. They qualified for the playoffs their first 7 years, won 5 division titles and reached the conference finals 3 times but could not win an NBA title.
After struggling in the late 1980's the Spurs were fortunate enough to draft David Robinson out of the United States Naval Academy in 1987. Robinson fulfilled his Naval committment before he began his playing career for the Spurs in the 1989-1990 season.
Robinson became a star-NBA player and helped the Spurs become a perennial playoff team for 7 straight years but no championship and was injured in a preseason game before the 1996-1997 season. San Antonio ended up having its' worst season since joining the NBA but the ingredients for a dynasty were just getting into place.
Just 18 games into the 1996-1997 season General Manager Gregg Popovich fired Coach Bob Hill and stepped in to replace him as the Spurs' skipper. The Spurs also used the number one pick they received thru the NBA's Lottery Draft to select Tim Duncan.
The following season (1997-1998) with Popovich at the helm, Robinson coming back from injury and a Rookie Tim Duncan the Spurs drastically improved to 56-26. This season showed the tremendous potential for what was to come in the near future for the Spurs franchise and the city of San Antonio.