San Antonio Spurs: Looking back on the 1996-97 NBA season

OAKLAN, CA - 1996: Vinny Del Negro
OAKLAN, CA - 1996: Vinny Del Negro /

The oddity that was the 1996-97 season for the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio Spurs fans have enjoyed winning seasons, a whopping 27 of the past 28 years. The lone exception being the 96-97 Spurs who went 20-62. The Spurs would play without an injured David Robinson for most of the year. And a seasoned Dominique Wilkins was the main attraction at the Alamodome. There was a silver lining, however.

In the ensuing NBA lottery, the bingo balls bounced in the Spurs’ favor, and gave them the No. 1 pick. This lucky outcome for the Spurs enabled them to draft Tim Duncan.

But that season was rough, a perfect storm of injuries and shoddy play, as we take a quick look back at the worst season in franchise history.

The Admiral goes down, twice

The biggest reason for the uninspiring season was David Robinson getting injured in preseason. His injury caused him to miss the first 18 games, in which the Spurs were 3-15. Upon Robinson’s return, the Spurs would go 3-3 in the next 6 games. Playing significantly better with D-Rob on the floor, they looked more like the two time defending Midwest Division champs that they were. In his sixth game back, Robinson broke his foot, and would not suit up for another game the rest of the year.

Other injuries included Chuck “The Rifleman” Person missing the entire season, Sean Elliott missing 43 games with tendinitis, and Charles Smith was out 65 games.

Aging human highlight film

Dominique Wilkins, who played in Greece the year before, was in his 16th season in the NBA. He was only here the one year. Wilkins played in 63 games, leading the team in scoring at 18.2 ppg. The high-flying veteran, had slowed down tremendously, since his days as a rim-rocking scoring machine. You just knew that this was one of the all-time greats about to end his career. “Nique” would go on to play in Italy the following year, and return to the NBA one final time in the 98-99 season. He played in 27 games for the Orlando Magic that year, averaging just 5 points per game.

Very few bright spots

Greg “Cadillac” Anderson was the only Spur to play in all 82 games of the 96-97 season. The “Ninja”, Sean Elliott, led the team in minutes per game at almost 36. The “Little General”, Avery Johnson, was the top Spur in assists and steals, and Will Perdue averaged the most rebounds and blocks. Vinny Del Negro(The Italian Stallion), Vernon Maxwell, Monty Williams, and Carl Herrera all made contributions as well.

Next: Potential trade chips for Kyrie Irving

It is very easy to forget about that long, lackluster 96-97 season, largely due to the fact that the Spurs have been title contenders almost every year since. Without the combination of the worst season in franchise history, paired with absolute luck, we might not have been able to draft Tim Duncan. We would have been stuck with Keith Van Horn or Chauncey Billups, no disrespect to them, but yikes.