I was just shy of 11 years old when the San Antonio Spurs opened their 1998 playoff bid against the Phoenix Suns. At the time, the twin towers of Tim Duncan and David Robinson were anchoring the team while Will Perdue, Avery Johnson, and the original Jaren Jackson were rounding out the starting five.
Having moved to San Antonio in 1995, it didn’t take me long to get caught up in Spurs fever. Even though the team suffered their worst season in franchise history soon after (thanks to a Robinson injury), the city was covered in pink, teal, and orange and proud to call the Spurs their team.
In 1997, with the bounce of a single ping pong ball, the future of the franchise, city, and my life changed forever. Yes, the Spurs drafting Tim Duncan was arguably the most impactful single moment any franchise has had in the last century. Still, it became just the first moment in what would become over 20 years of fond memories the Spurs would provide for decades.
The San Antonio Spurs put the city on the map
I remember attending the Spurs’ first-ever NBA championship celebration at the San Antonio Riverwalk in 1999 when I was just out of fifth grade. Donning my street-corner-bought championship t-shirt displaying caricatures of the roster which included the likes of Mario Elie, Malik Rose, and Steve Kerr, I suddenly understood how much it meant to the city to be able to be called champions.
I stayed up until 2 AM that day, flipping from local news channel to local news channel to see all of the postgame coverage from a city that was euphoric over the fact that the Silver and Black finally reached the pinnacle. The next day, I had my father take me around town looking for more gear to rock bearing the Spurs’ name.
After a few more dominant regular seasons followed by discouraging playoff losses, the Spurs found their way back to the top again in 2003, when I was 15. The atmosphere in the city was just as electric as it was four years before, and that night I waited in line at Academy Sports at the stroke of midnight to score a championship DVD and T-shirt.
The 2003 championship was special for many reasons, the main one being it was the first one for the other two in The Big Three. Both of them became international superstars on the court and local icons for the city. I’m pretty sure I’ve used some variation of the numbers 20, 21, and nine in most of my passwords dating from MySpace to Instagram.
Family bonding and new friends
Not only did the impact of international guys like Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker put the city of San Antonio on the map, it directly affected my personal life in major ways. One of my sisters loved Manu from the minute he joined the team, and the affection toward him quickly spread throughout the city (yes, I believe she might’ve actually been ‘patient zero’, so to speak).
We even took a trip to a local IHOP to meet Manu during his rookie season with the team, when he was hardly known.
In 2008, my sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which sent a shockwave through my family. Out of five sisters, she’s the closest one to me in age, so we always had a natural bond that was only strengthened by our love of the San Antonio Spurs.
Fortunately, she was able to defeat the potentially fatal disease. At the party celebrating her being a cancer survivor, we took a tequila shot together with Spurs shot glasses.
The Spurs also allowed me to make friends from all over the world. One such friend dated back to the early 2000s when I met someone from Costa Rica through a Spurs message board that became a good friend.
We were friends for years before I got the chance to visit her and her husband in 2012. I took the same sister with me, making a vacation out of it that I’ll never forget. By the way, the place my friend met her husband years earlier? The same Spurs message board.
Countless unforgettable moments, with more to come
From age 11 to 34, I went through all the typical ups and downs of a kid/teen/young adult/adult, but I’ve always had the Spurs to turn to. Have I been too invested in the outcome of games sometimes? Certainly. I’ll admit it, I shed a tear after Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, and I was a full-grown adult by then (there also was a lot of alcohol involved).
In reflecting on my time as a fan, it’s hard to feel anything but incredibly spoiled and fortunate that I found the Spurs when I did. How many people can say they’ve witnessed their team win five championships in their lifetime? There’s definitely a handful, but it’s extremely rare in the grand scheme.
I now have five distinct memories of where I was when the final buzzer sounded, and my team was the last one left standing. I’ve watched championship videos in the form of tapes, DVDs, and Blu-Ray over the Spurs’ dominant stretch.
After the 2014 redemption ring, I officially became able to not allow Spurs’ losses to ruin my day. Was it maturity? Maybe. But the way that team came together to exorcise their demons seemed to make everything they do going forward just gravy.
Don’t get me wrong. I still experience heart palpitations in a close Spurs game, playoffs or not. I’m still as invested as I’ve ever been in the team’s success, taking it personally when others dare to attack the greatness of the Silver and Black.
Now with the 22-year playoff streak coming to an end, I can’t help but feel optimistic about the direction of the team. Gregg Popovich, while he definitely made his share of mistakes this season, is likely to be back, which will do wonders for the youth movement happening on the team.
The Orlando Bubble showed the Spurs are never going to stop fighting, and I’ll be there to root for them every step of the way.
Congratulations, Spurs, on doing something that will probably never happen again in the NBA — and more importantly, thank you.