San Antonio Spurs: Making a Major Market
From the ABA to the NBA to championships, the San Antonio Spurs have been a medium-market team with major-market accomplishments. Their consistent management and superior coaching and playing have brought the Spurs to a fixture in the post season, despite low points along the way. For decades, tickets to San Antonio Spurs games have become prime possessions.
Most recently the Spurs have been in what can be called a rebuilding mode, only because the standards have been set so high. You don’t have to go back far in their nearly 50 years of existence to find pure dominance.
The ABA Days and “The Iceman”
That history actually started in 1967 in Dallas, with an American Basketball Association team called the Chaparrals, one of the 11 original franchises in the fledgling league. A few mediocre seasons later, a group of San Antonio businessmen led by Red McCombs, John Schaefer and Angelo Drossos acquired the team through a lend-lease agreement, and the fan following made it a solid enough investment for a permanent move.
The newly named San Antonio Spurs settled into HemisFair Arena in 1974 and went to work obtaining players to fill the 10,000 seats. They picked up ABA veteran James Silas and future ABA Rookie of the Year Swen Nater. Then in January of that season, the Spurs brought in the first impactful player and one of the most prolific scorers in pro basketball history, George “The Iceman” Gervin.
Gervin and company would lead the Spurs to the ABA playoffs for two straight seasons, losing to the Indiana Pacers both years. Their attendance figures were attractive enough to make the Spurs one of four ABA teams to move over to the National Basketball Association when the leagues merged in 1976.
Despite restrictions on draft picks and TV revenues placed on the NBA newcomers, the Spurs would prove their worth. They posted a winning record in the 1976-77 season and went 52-30 the following season, as Gervin won the league scoring title, averaging 27.2 points a game.
Gervin would also lead the league in scoring for the next two seasons, with 29.6 and 33.1 PPG respectively. San Antonio Spurs tickets would go quickly as the team became perennial playoff contenders for seven seasons.
Highs and Lows of the ‘80s
The Spurs would continue their winning ways in the early years, before the aging Gervin was traded to the Chicago Bulls after the 1984-85 season. The team suffered that loss in the latter part of the decade with a series of losing seasons.
But there was a light at the end of the tunnel. In the 1987 draft, the Spurs picked United States Naval Academy standout David Robinson. They would have to wait two years for Robinson to fulfill his commitment to serve in the Navy, but it would be well worth the wait.
The Spurs would also pick up draftee Sean Elliott from Arizona, and Terry Cummings from the Milwaukee Bucks. Together with Robinson, they led the Spurs to a huge turnaround, posting a 56–26 record and winning the Midwest Division title in 1989-90. Robinson was named NBA Rookie of The Year, averaging 24.3 points and 12 rebounds.
The Spurs swept the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs that year, but lost to the Portland Trailblazers in seven games.
The 1990s: Not Quite Enough
That was the kind of pattern to follow the Spurs through the decade. They had plenty of wins, but not enough in the post season to get them over the top. The 1994-95 season was their best during this run. The Spurs went 62-20 during the regular season, and Robinson was named league MVP. But they ran into the eventual NBA champion Houston Rockets and stumbled in the Western Conference finals.
Injuries to Robinson and Elliott would hamper the Spurs during the following season, despite the signing of journeyman Dominique Wilkins. He averaged 18 points a game in a lowly 20-62 campaign.
But their poor showing would lead to changes that would affect the franchise for years to come. During the season the Spurs moved general manager Gregg Popovich into the head coaching position, a job he would keep for at least two decades. The record also got them a high draft pick. It was consensus All American Tim Duncan, who would go on to play his entire 19-year career with the Spurs.
Duncan averaged 21.1 points and 11.9 rebounds per game in his debut season, on the way to being named the league’s Rookie of the Year. He helped the Spurs to a 56-26 record before they lost to the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals.
With the 7-1 Robinson back to health, and the 6-11 Duncan joining him up front, the Spurs and their “Twin Towers” were ready to go on a run in the 1998–99 season. The season was delayed for three months because of a lockout, but the Spurs went on to an NBA-best 37–13 record. In the playoffs the Spurs rolled to an 11-1 record and all the way to the finals. It took them just five games to dispatch the New York Knicks and capture the franchise’s first NBA title.
The 1999-2000 season launched a series of 50-plus win seasons for the Spurs, with mixed luck in the postseason.
The 2002-03 season was notable for Robinson announcing he would retire at the end of the year, and for the team’s move to the new SBC Center. The Spurs rolled to a 60-22 record, again the NBA’s best, and Duncan earned his second NBA MVP award. They then conquered their rivals, the Suns, Lakers and Mavericks, on the way to the finals. They faced off with the New Jersey Nets, the first time two former ABA teams met in the NBA title series. The Spurs triumphed in six games for their second championship.
With Robinson gone and several more roster changes, the Spurs would still maintain consistency through the 2000s. Two big changes were the additions of Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili for the 2004-05 season. With Duncan, they formed a trio of triumph, winning their third NBA crown that year, and adding a fourth in 2007.
Duncan, Ginóbili and Parker would continue to win more playoff games than any three players on the same team in NBA history. But it was finals MVP Kawhi Leonard that led the Spurs to their fifth championship in 2014.
Duncan and company have since gone their ways. Duncan retired in 2016, and Ginobili hung up his sneakers in 2018, the same year that Leonard and Parker were traded.
But with such a competitive reputation, it is no doubt that San Antonio Spurs tickets will continue to have major-market value.