Younger fans might think the San Antonio Spurs hit absolute rock bottom in 2022-23, but their 60 losses were far from the worst season in franchise history. That not-so-honorable distinction belongs to the 1996-97 squad that put together what was easily the most catastrophic campaign this proud organization has ever seen.
The Silver and Black experienced a lot of success in the two years leading up to the 1996-97 season, sporting 121-43 record under the leadership of Bob Hill during that stretch. Nonetheless, the start of their schedule brough terrible news for the club as back spasms left David Robinson on the sidelines for an extended period.
After starting the season 3-15, General Manager Gregg Popovich fired Hill and took the helm as head coach for the Spurs. Though Robinson came off the injury report, he would only return for six games before a broken foot kept him out of the rotation for the rest of the season, sending San Antonio into an all-out free fall in the Western Conference standings.
The Spurs ended 1996-97 with the third-worst record, third-worst offense, and worst defense in the NBA. San Antonio also had several long cold spells that season, including a nine-game losing streak, a seven-game losing streak, and three six-game game losing streaks.
Popovich and the Spurs would sputter to a 20-62 record in his first season as head coach, winning 12 home games and 8 road games as opponents picked them apart. Who would have guessed he would become a Hall of Famer, the winningest head coach in league history, and the architect of a dynasty?
San Antonio's top-three leaders in minutes per game were Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson, and Vinny Del Negro. Elliott and Johnson would go on to win a championship with the Spurs just two years after the most horrendous season in franchise history.
While the good guys were down in the dumps, a little lottery luck helped them secure a golden ticket to selecting Tim Duncan with the number one overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. Landing once-in-a-lifetime talent signaled a transition into perennial contention for San Antonio, and Duncan cemented himself as a superstar and the greatest player to ever wear the Silver and Black.
HIstory has repeated itself as the Spurs have turned their misfortune into a franchise cornerstone. All the losing made last season an uphill battle for even the most diehard fans, but Victor Wembanyama could help San Antonio recapture its championship pedigree.