San Antonio Spurs History

An Old school Spurs fan's guide to surviving a true rebuild

Kyle Forson
Tim Duncan, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson
Tim Duncan, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson / Matthew Stockman/GettyImages
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Recently, the San Antonio Spurs announced that one game will be played in the Alamodome this season to commemorate their 50th anniversary. The franchise referenced paying homage to the 1999 club who, of course, brought home the first of five world championships to the Alamo City, doing so in the friendly confines of the 65,000-seat arena located in downtown San Antonio.

Yes, the dome did indeed see its glory days and deserves recognition as a key part of the Spurs' rich 50-year history. This is a fantastic way to do just that, a trip down memory lane for Spurs fans. With that said, I would like to remind Spurs nation that memory lane isn’t always a freshly paved road weaving its way through the Texas hill country filled with bluebonnets and butterflies. It also contains decade-old potholes and often leads to dead-end roads.

Too negative for you? Listen, if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t talk to you this way, and based on recent trades and personnel moves the Silver and Black have made during the offseason, it would suggest that the franchise, and fans alike, may be in for a long season. That's not something this fanbase is used to.

How can current Spurs fans cope with what lies ahead?

So how does one cope with a season that, at least on paper, looks bleak? One way is to embrace all roads of memory lane. Sure, honoring the Spurs' storied past in the Dome is going to be special and will help with the pain of a seemingly inevitable losing season to come. But when you look down on that fiesta-style painted court from Section 217, take a moment and think about Bob Hill and the 1996 San Antonio Spurs.

Oh, did you forget about Coach Hill and that 1996 team? Or perhaps you don’t even know who that is or why it would be relevant. Maybe you do know and just need to be reminded or simply don’t care and are wondering why you are still reading this article. Why should you read on?  So maybe you don’t have to cry yourself to sleep after every Spurs game this season. That’s why.

Remembrance of the ’96 Spurs is just as important as the ’99 Spurs. For without the ’96 team, there would have been no championships. No Tim Duncan, no Gregg Popovich, no river parades, no parties on Commerce Street. The 1996 Spurs started the season with a 3-15 record, fired then-coach Bob Hill, and lost All-Star David Robinson for the season due to injury all in the same timeframe. This led to a dismal 20-win season with 62 losses and a last-place finish in the division.

San Antonio Spurs
Sean Elliott / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

I saw the low-point season firsthand

I vividly remember sitting in the Alamodome during the ’96 season at 12 years old watching Robinson sit in street clothes on the Spurs bench looking like a schoolboy who just had his beloved pet dog taken away from him. During this blowout loss, two older gentlemen who were season ticket holders in the same section were ranting about how the Spurs organization would never win a title.

They sat complaining that they would never see that day and preaching how the coach who replaced the fired Bob Hill was a loser, and that even if the Spurs did get the number one draft pick the following season, there was no one worth taking that could make a difference.

Well, Gregg Popovich replaced Hill, and the number one pick who went to San Antonio was a young man by the name of Tim Duncan. Talk about people being closed-minded right? It gets better.

Three years later, I sat in the same section, in the same Dome, and listened to the same two gentlemen rant about how they “knew all along”, that the replacement coach in ’96 was a perfect fit and how they knew Tim Duncan was the key before San Antonio even drafted him.  It was Spurs Twitter before there was such a thing. Live in the flesh.

San Antonio Spurs
Tre Jones, Keldon Johnson, Devin Vassell / C. Morgan Engel/GettyImages

We need to trust that the Spurs will be back

Feel better yet? Because I do. The only way to cope through a rebuild is to lean on tangible results from the past that prove good things can come from a losing season. Spurs fans had to suffer through 1996 but, in return, got two decades of NBA dominance and witnessed an NBA dynasty being born in South Texas.

Am I saying that this is the blueprint for what will happen if the Spurs finish dead last in the NBA and secure the overall number one pick in the NBA Draft? No, not at all. The point is to lean on memories like this to stay positive and understand that it will be ok if you maintain an open mind. What happened in 1996 was not a total rebuild, nor does the Spurs' current roster have a future Hall of Famer like David was.

However, if not for a 28-54 season a decade earlier in 1986, San Antonio would have never acquired Robinson. But they did get David. Three years later, fans who packed the old Hemisphere Arena witnessed the rebirth of their San Antonio Spurs from the 1970s, which featured Johnny Moore and The Iceman. Between 1990 and 2019, San Antonio missed the playoffs only once.

Do we see a pattern? Because there is one. The Spurs know how to rebuild in different ways, in different eras. They know how to draft, even if it doesn’t feel like it. They have been here before, and history shows that.

The difference now is that we, as fans, do not know what this future might feel like, and it is uncomfortable, scary even, to think about suffering through losing seasons such as ’96 and ’86. We do not know what this season will look like when it is done, and that is ok.

Totally different scenarios in different timeframes with similar outcomes. Just like the upcoming season, which will be a totally different scenario in a completely different timeframe.

If history shows us anything, I would bet on a similar outcome.   

Next. The Top 30 San Antonio Spurs Ever. dark

So, when this season begins, take a cruise through memory lane and remember to acknowledge the rough patches just like you savor the straight-open road. Who knows, it just might help you cope.   

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