A Brief Introduction:
When I began working on this blog, it hadn't occurred to me that it might attract an audience beyond the regular followers of Pounding the Rock. I about fell off the chair when I saw a link to the story on the SI.com Spurs page. I wrote this story in response to comments on hirschof's recent blog: "Trial by Fire: Coach Gregg Popovich." If you haven't already read hirschof's post, please click here it will open in a new window. If you read his story first, my story will make a whole lot more sense. I thank you all for your interest and enthusiasm.
It never ceases to amaze me how much has changed in twenty years. The early struggles to establish an NBA team in San Antonio are now, especially after four championship seasons, distant memories. It is impossible to imagine San Antonio without the Spurs.
Twenty-one years ago, the Spurs played in the Hemisfair Arena. My memory of the media room is vague because photographers didn't have to spend much time there, but I remember many tables with typewriters. The lighting in the Arena by today's standards was dim. The primary requirement to be a court-side photographer was the ability to take reasonably high quality photos of fast action in low light on film without flash. A knowledge of basketball helped.The years prior to the '89 - '90 season had been exceedingly turbulent for the Spurs' organization. There was even serious talk of relocation to another city due to low attendance. Red McCombs took over full ownership and began making major changes to keep the team in SA. Bob Weiss was fired as head coach and replaced by Larry Brown. Gregg Popovich was hired as his lead assistant. Pop remained largely under the radar (lurking?) in the shadow of Coach Brown.
David Robinson, who had been drafted in '87, began his rookie year after completing his military obligation. Sean Elliott was drafted in '89 and began his rookie year. And this was the season Johnny Moore (#00) attempted to make a comeback after a near fatal bout of Valley fever (coccidiomycosis).
Of particular relevance to me, the Spurs negotiated a deal with Incarnate Word College ((IWC) now the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW)) for use of the newly constructed McDermott Convocation Center as a practice facility. In addition to doing freelance corporate PR photography, I had been teaching photography at IWC for six years. I was also doing the PR photography for the College, including the bulk of the athletics photos. (Side note: I still teach at UIW and will be retiring in May.)
With this agreement between the Spurs and the College, I was given the opportunity to take a shot at NBA level photography doing both corporate PR and court-side photography for the Spurs organization. It was an incredible experience for the season, but conflicts between the basketball schedule and my primary responsibility to the College unfortunately made it an unsustainable combination beyond '89 - '90.
I had a very good working relationship with Coach Brown. Throughout the season, I had numerous conversations with him ranging from basketball to education to everyday chitchat. Coach Brown was the face of the Spurs. I was probably introduced to Pop and the other assistant coaches, but I have no memory of it now. As is typical, the assistant coaches kept a low profile. I had no idea about Pop's personality or how he operated.
Preview: One of the most controversial changes the Spurs made in '89 - '90…
Click here to go to Part 2.
Correction: This has been edited since original publication to correct Johnny Moore's medical ailment. The original version incorrectly stated it as mountain fever.