Like the Hawks of Dominique Wilkins and the Bucks of Sidney
Moncrief, the Spurs of David Robinson have never made it to the
NBA Finals. "It's time," says coach Gregg Popovich, who began
his training camp with a challenge to Robinson and his other two
top players, Tim Duncan and Avery Johnson. "I want them to feel
the urgency now, every day, every game. I want them to feel the
losses as if the playoff season is beginning right now."
To help Robinson and Co. reach the promised land, San Antonio
imported some experienced guides. Swingman Mario Elie, guard
Steve Kerr and forward Jerome Kersey have played in seven of the
last nine Finals. Their other impressive numbers are five
(championship rings), 296 (playoff games) and 104 (years on the
planet). They should provide the Spurs with a greater sense of
purpose and--despite their advanced age--a jolt of energy.
Kerr, 33, was an honors student at the Michael Jordan School of
Last Minute Shooting. Just by waving for the ball near the
three-point line he can make life easier inside for Duncan and
Robinson. If Kerr is a specialist, Elie, 35, and Kersey, 36, are
general contractors. Elie can stifle the most threatening
opponent, create chances for his more famous teammates and win
the game himself, if necessary, from long range. His 52.6%
three-point shooting is second only to Scott Wedman's in Finals
history. Kersey remains the same maniacal rebounder and defender
who appeared in the 1990 and '92 Finals with the Trail Blazers.
"They've definitely overachieved," says Popovich of his new, old
bench troops. "They've figured out how to play, what they do
best. And they're tough-minded."
Elie spent the last five seasons in Houston, where he had a good
view of the sputtering Spurs. "They lacked a little fire," he
says. "They didn't have guys who'd been champions, who'd won
hard playoff fights as I have. You can't be satisfied with
having just a great regular season."
San Antonio's other new ingredient is a healthy Sean Elliott,
who missed the latter half of each of the last two seasons with
tendinitis in his quadriceps. "The quick first step is there,
his jumping ability is there," says Popovich, who appreciates
that the Spurs came closest to reaching the Finals in 1995 and
'96, when Elliott was averaging more than 18 points a game. Says
Elie, "Sean's the key to our team."
Elliott provided analysis of the '98 Finals for a San Antonio TV
station. He kept close tabs on how the "less important" Bulls
helped Jordan to retire as a champion. "I talked to both Jud
Buechler and Steve [Kerr] about it, and they said the philosophy
was to get everybody involved," says Elliott.
No matter how it's phrased, the lesson is always the same: Great
players will forever be frustrated without terrific teammates.
Robinson may have the help he needs to make it to the Finals.
Starters PVR* 1997-98 Key Stats
SF Sean Elliott 88 9.3 ppg 3.4 rpg 1.7 apg 40.3 FG%
PF Tim Duncan 5 21.1 ppg 11.9 rpg 2.51 bpg 54.9 FG%
C David Robinson 3 21.6 ppg 10.6 rpg 2.63 bpg 51.1 FG%
SG Jaren Jackson 170 8.8 ppg 2.6 rpg 1.9 apg 0.73 spg
PG Avery Johnson 69 10.2 ppg 7.9 apg 1.12 spg 47.8 FG%
Top Reserves Bench Ranking (out of 29 teams): 16
G-F Mario Elie[+] 163 8.4 ppg 3.0 apg 1.11 spg 45.2 FG%
G Steve Kerr[+] 206 7.5 ppg 1.9 apg 45.4 FG% 43.8 3FG%
C-F Will Perdue 231 5.0 ppg 6.8 rpg 0.63 bpg 54.9 FG%
1997-98 Record: 56-26 (second in Midwest)
Coach: Gregg Popovich (third season with Spurs)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 68)