San Antonio Spurs: Complete history of the ABA years

James Silas, Byron Beck
James Silas, Byron Beck / Mark Junge/GettyImages
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San Antonio Spurs
George Gervin / Focus On Sport/GettyImages

The San Antonio Spurs' original "Big Three"

In the early 1970s, the Virginia Squires were strapped for cash. They sold the rights to George Gervin and Swen Nater to San Antonio, although the Gervin deal wound up in district court because the ABA office determined it was detrimental to the league.

In addition to that, Squires owner Earl Foreman had a case of sellers’ remorse and wanted to refund the deal. Drosses had already written the check and argued that the deal was done and fair. Luckily, Judge Adrian Spears was an avid Spurs fan and approved the deal, giving the Spurs, for the first time, three legitimate stars.

Despite having a “big three,” the San Antonio Spurs never made it to the ABA Finals. That’s not to say they weren’t winners, though. With low expectations for the season, televangelist Bob Harrington rented the stadium for April 10th. The Spurs ended up making a playoff run, and Game 6 was scheduled for HemisFair Arena on the 10th.

Harrington had the rights to the stadium but graciously allowed the Spurs to use it instead under the condition he could provide the halftime performance. The Spurs blew the Pacers out but went on to lose Game 7, also at home. For the final game, they did not bring Harrington back to the arena, so maybe that's why they lost? George Gervin scored 24 and Rich Jones dropped a career-high 28, but Silas and Swen were non-factors. 

In the 1974-75 season, the Spurs got off to an 18-10 start and ended with their best record so far. Despite that, ownership wanted a run-and-gun team, so after 28 games, they fired Tom Nissalke, again. The move worked, as the new coach, Bob Bass, had an 88-57 record across the season and a half he spent at the helm. Parting ways with Nissalke worked, as Gervin emerged as a superstar. 

In 1976, the Spurs broke a 26-game Denver Nuggets winning streak for the second season in a row, prompting Nugget’s head coach Larry Brown to get into a screaming match with Gervin and Bass. The parties were separated, and Brown later stated that he never wanted anything to do with the Spurs organization for as long as he was alive.

Larry Brown did not keep his promise. Brown also suggested that the only thing good about San Antonio is the guacamole salad. Upon hearing those remarks, Spurs fans pelted the court with avocados when the Nuggets came to town later that season. 

With God, Mexican food, and rowdy fans all on their side, it was no wonder the Spurs joined the Nets, Nuggets, and Pacers as the only ABA teams to survive the merge into the NBA. In their first NBA season, the Spurs made the playoffs and established themselves as a legitimate NBA team under new head coach Doug Moe. 

The Spurs went on to be one of the most successful sports teams ever. The team was built by poor business decisions, almost saved in federal court, and became known as one of the rowdiest teams in the ABA. They never won a championship, but they were never called boring.

Next. The Top 30 San Antonio Spurs Ever. dark

Eventually, those would be flipped, but San Antonio basketball was always worth watching.