In San Antonio, Spurs brake for goose bumps, not speed bumps, as
when Steve Kerr steered onto his street after Game 6 of the
Western Conference finals and slowed to see, in yard after yard,
hand-lettered signs limned in porch light: CONGRATULATIONS,
STEVE, and GO SPURS GO. His own yard lay beneath a riot of toilet
paper, as if--in the hours since he'd left home--a shower of
Charmin had fallen on the city. Kerr, touched, left the TP where
it lay, a two-ply ticker tape.
A day later, as all of San Antonio was abuzz about Kerr--and his
four three-pointers that sent the Spurs into the NBA Finals
against the Nets--he slipped into an Italian restaurant for
dinner. As recognition registered, patrons began popping to their
feet, table by table, until the entire room had risen in
applause. "Pretty amazing," says Kerr, 37. "And all for 13
minutes of action."
This is what it's like to be a Spur in San Antonio, where players
are recognized everywhere they go, and even where they don't go:
As I disembarked from a hotel elevator last week in S.A., a
middle-aged woman, starstruck in her Spurs shirt, looked at me
and said, "Danny Ferry?!"
When I recounted this story to the actual Ferry between Games 1
and 2 of the Finals last week, the Spurs forward--6'10" and
bereft of body fat--said, smiling, "That's quite a compliment for
Indeed it is, for the Spurs are beloved in San Antonio, a city
that the hometown Express-News last week noted has been "deemed
the fattest in the United States and derided as 'Fat Antonio.'"
Which might have something to do with the surplus of signs, on
restaurant marquees throughout the city, for something called a
For San Antonians, then, there is perhaps a vicarious component
to the Spurs' exertions, a kind of cardio by proxy. And for good
reason. San Antonio was the first city to have or, indeed, to
need an air-conditioned hotel, office building and fleet of
municipal buses. The thought of alfresco exercise there--in June,
in 98° heat--quickly yields to longneck Lone Stars on the
Riverwalk, the city's absurdly attractive urban waterway, which
is enlivened by bars, boats and (what's better?) mariachi music.
Which made San Antonio an appropriate host for the first NBA
Finals game between teams from the old ABA, a league whose
defensive siestas--and 'fro-riddled fiestas--are legendary. San
Antonio has a street named George Gervin Court, a George Gervin
Youth Center, a George Gervin Technology Center and--best of
all--a George Gervin, the ex-Spur who held a press conference
last week to address, among other things, the relative
circumference of his former hairdo. "Darnell had a 'fro, man,"
Gervin said of ABA rival Darnell Hillman. "I had a mini-'fro."
By his side, ex-Net Julius Erving pointed an endless E.T. index
finger at Gervin and said, "This is his town." Even now, shorn of
his own memorable mushroom-cloud 'fro, the Doctor remains more
regal--more indescribably cool--than any athlete on Earth. Or as
NBA senior vice president of communications Brian McIntyre put it
perfectly: "Julius still has his Juliosity."
Doc and Ice were once literally basketball's poster boys.
Standing at center court last week in San Antonio, they appeared
to have climbed off my own bedroom wall circa 1979. When I asked
Gervin how often he is asked to sign--by aging, unhinged,
Sharpie-armed nerds--the seminal Nike poster of himself seated on
an easy chair of ice blocks, he said, "All the time, man, all the
time." And then the Iceman wenteth, ducking out a side door,
fearing, with good reason, that I was one of those nerds.
The pop-cultural presence of present-day Spurs is no less
pervasive. Spend a few days in San Antonio and you'll see,
several dozen times, Malik Rose's TV spot for Accident & Injury
Chiropractic. In a performance more wooden than Pinocchio's, an
actor endures a litany of industrial injuries to the spine, as
the Spurs forward urges us again and again to call "921-PAIN.
"It's awesome," says Ferry, of the Spurs' fishbowl existence in
San Antonio. "You're part of the culture here. All the guys get
involved in the community." And the community gets involved in
all the guys, which would seem to make negotiating a frozen-foods
aisle somewhat problematic for a 7'1" civic icon like David
Robinson. Except that it doesn't. "You have to see David behind
the scenes," says Kerr. "See how open and friendly he is with any
person who greets him on the street."
Outside the SBC Center entrepreneurs sell T-shirts that say KISS
MY ASTERISK, a reference to Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who
suggested absurdly that San Antonio's one championship, in the
lockout-shortened 1999 season, be scarlet-lettered in the record
book. But the typographical symbol of the city is less the
asterisk than inverted exclamation marks. Evident on buildings
and billboards around San Antonio, they lend everything between
them--¬°breakfast tacos!--a festive air.
That won't change, even if the Nets do upset the Spurs. Which
will be exceedingly difficult. For every Spur, like every other
citizen of San Antonio, knows precisely what to do when his
back's pressed up against a wall: Call 921-PAIN. That's 921...
San Antonio. "You're part of the culture here."