What if the Spurs Passed on David Robinson in 1987?

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers
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San Antonio Spurs
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1995-96 Season

The trade the Spurs did with Philadelphia appears to be a wash, as both teams have the worst record in their respective conferences. The Sixers get the first overall pick, which becomes San Antonio’s, so next season starts with a bang. We aren’t quite there yet, as Micheal Jordan is enjoying retirement, the Western Conference has the run of the league, and Hakeem finally captures a title, besting the Suns in the Conference Finals for the first time. 

Spurs fans grow restless and rumors swirl that they may be moved to a different city soon. A phone call is made to Cincinnati, and when asked if they want to purchase the Spurs, a group of Ohio businessmen simply does not understand that San Antonio has an NBA team. 

San Antonio Spurs
Allen Iverson / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages

1996-97 Season

With their core of Elliott (who is now an established veteran and fringe All-Star) and Laettner, the Spurs need someone to handle the ball and a new coach. Their previous coach never really had success and led them to the second-worst record in the league last season, and the coaching search is a difficult one. 

Eventually, the San Antonio Spurs find a no-name coach from Don Nelson’s Warriors and take a flier on him. In 1996, Gregg Popovich enters San Antonio.

With the first overall pick, Popovich is hardly consulted at all, which he takes as a slap in the face. He mentions wanting someone who went to college for four years so he doesn’t have to develop them that much, but he is immediately struck down. 

The San Antonio Spurs draft Allen Iverson first overall in 1996, angering Pop to no end. He refuses to start Iverson and only plays him for 14 minutes a night. The front office calls for his head, but he manages to keep his job. How he did that remains one of the league’s best-kept secrets. 

1997-98 Season

After the debacle that was last season, the front office warns Popovich that if they do not make a deep playoff run this season, he will soon find himself jobless. Popovich takes this personally and says if this is his last year, he’s doing it his way.

After a horrid season, the Spurs once again luck into the first overall pick. With little consideration, the Spurs select a guy who did in fact stay in college for all four years. The Tim Duncan era has begun.

The Spurs are led by a backcourt of Elliott and Iverson, both of whom are very, very good at basketball. Laettner plays a true center position, and Duncan is right next to him. All four players are named All-Stars, each average over 15 points a game, and they take the league by storm. They are seeded second in the West, right behind the new-look Suns.

The Suns are no longer led by Barkley and Robinson. The Admiral remains, but the Suns traded Charles Barkley, an established star and future Hall of Famer, to the Bobcats for their first-round pick. Led by a Jason Kidd backcourt and Robinson down low, the Suns manage to beat the Spurs in five to advance to yet another Finals, although it wasn’t Kidd or Robinson who won the series for the Suns: it was a teenager named Kobe Bryant.