(Thanks to George Hill for the inspiration)
I'm one guy who has a hard time rooting against players who used to play in the Silver and Black. For one thing, most NBA players seem to be decent, professional guys (the unfortunate exceptions stick out like sore thumbs). What's more, the Spurs under PATFO seem to emphasize positive personal qualities while acquiring new talent. When George Hill hoisted his first shot the other night, I instinctively wanted to see it go in. Probably many of us, maybe a majority of us, felt the same way.
So who's on your Always a Spur list? I have a couple of "rules" attached to this concept after the jump.
1) No one honored in the AT&T rafters, nor anyone likely to do so, makes the list. Sorry, but from Silas to Bowen of yesteryear, Tim, Tony, Manu on today's team - these players are all of our favorites.
2) The player in question has to be at least three seasons, including this one, removed from the team. Just to allow some perspective to sink in. Maybe we'll all hate George Hill in a few years, who knows?
That's it. Here, in first team/second team format, is my Always a Spur list:
C - Fabricio Oberto. In the right matchup, Oberto was so much fun to watch. He was a great interior passer and could get himself open like nobody else. When the NBA has every game ever played available for download, the 2007 WCF will be among the first set of games I get my hands on. Watching Oberto and Timmy eviscerate the Utah bigs with their cuts and passes was a thing of beauty.
PF - Malik Rose. Self-made players are the best, the easiest to root for. Rose was not without very useful attributes - he could explode off the floor and defend the post with success - no mean feat at six-foot five. But didn't have much offensive ability to speak of in his early years. But not only did he operate efficiently within his limitations, he worked hard, improved his free-throw percentage (to the point that he was actually chosen to shoot technical free throws!), expanded the range on his jump shot, and made himself into the top sixth man on a perennial championship contender. Malik always seemed to have a good rapport with Spurs fans and had some playoff moments that will live forever in Spurs lore - the 25 & 9 in the 2003 WCF, the monster dunk on Dikembe in the Finals. My favorite Malik Rose moment took place before a game. When Tim Duncan was away, attending his father's funeral, for game four of round one versus the Seattle Sonics, Malik took his place in the starting lineup. Malik took a moment before tipoff, before the game started, to show the world that the Duncan family was with the team in spirit: he cradled the ball in both arms, head tucked down into it, in a faithful reproduction of Tim's signature pre-game ritual. To my regret I don't have a copy of that photo, but I'll always remember it as a moving show of support to a grieving teammate.
SF - Willie Anderson. Okay, technically he was a SG, but he could play either position. For that matter, he could, and did, play some point - he was just that versatile. And smooth - the guy played with a real easy kind of grace out there. It's a shame his shins were made of balsa wood, because with good health he might have helped hang a banner or two in the Alamodome well before 1999.
SG - Devin Brown. How cool was Devin Brown's arrival as a Spur? A local who not only made the team, but made himself a rotation player? And led a heroic playoff comeback that fell just short? His journey from cup of coffee guy to bit player to eighth man was fun to watch. Maybe he didn't have a storied career or anything, but I believe Brown got everything out of his talent that his talent put into him.
PG - Jacque Vaughn. A slow, small guy with no jumpshot can have an NBA career if he's smart, hard-working and tenacious as hell on defense. Vaughn spent more time mopping floors than the average hospital janitor. If Jacque Vaughn was a baseball player, he'd be one of those guys whose uniform was caked with dirt by the bottom of the second inning.
C - Frank Brickowski. I'm a big fan of "take no crap" guys, and Brickowski was one of the best. The first Spurs game I attended in the David Robinson era was against the defending champion Detroit Pistons, and as often happened, Bill Laimbeer started up with his usual antics. Frank Brickowski was having none of it, and the Spurs walked out of there with one of their biggest wins of the year. As an aside, Brickowski left the Spurs as a result of a misguided attempt to improve the club: Brickowski was traded for Paul Pressey in a rare straight-up player-for-player deal. Pressey was smaller and older, but Bob Bass pulled the trigger anyway. You know, because the Spurs had too many useful big men. Brickowski played six more seasons after the trade compared to Pressey's three, and rather more effectively.
PF - Sean Marks. Sure he looked goofy as hell, but he sure seemed to play well in garbage time, much better than most twelfth men. I have to assume that his defense was NBA horrible because he looked pretty good on offense. I'm always fond of twelfth men, and Marks was my favorite among them.
SF - Danny Ferry. One of the ways to make my list is to come up big when coming up big was not expected. In round one of the 2003 Playoffs, the Spurs were in trouble after just one game: they had lost game one to a team, the Phoenix Suns, that had beaten them three times out of four during the regular season. The lone Spurs win came in overtime. (I was at that game, and the Suns forced overtime with a Stephon Marbury three. That was one tough number eight seed) David Robinson was out for game two due to injury, and Kevin Willis was out for game two due to foolishness: he got himself suspended for a flagrant foul he committed in game one. So Danny Ferry, the guy who had played all of five minutes per game over sixty-four regular season games and did not play in game one, was forced into action. Well, Ferry not only played in game two and started, but in thirty-one minutes scored six points, grabbed ten rebounds (only two fewer than league MVP Tim Duncan), and led the starters in plus/minus with +18. In a game the Spurs won by eight. He might have been a draft bust, he might have been an NBA scrub all things considered, but in a game the Spurs absolutely had to have, Danny Ferry came up large.
SG - Mario Elie. Hell yes! What's not to love? Mario Elie was a guy who not only took no crap, he believed in basketball as theater. He loved playing when emotions ran high, and he was at his best in such moments. We all remember his Kiss of Death to the 1995 Phoenix Suns as a Rocket, but of course as a Spur when he got his chance he blew that same kiss in the face of his old team. Elie gave that 1999 team the spark it needed to play its best. Like I've always said, the best Rockets are ex-Rockets.
PG - Doc Rivers. What a fiery guy Doc was as a player. Doc Rivers' defensive game plan, apparently, was to get inside the opposing guard's jock the moment that guy got off the team bus. Rivers was a guy I rooted for before he came to the Spurs, and one of the many reasons I felt bad about 1995 was that we couldn't get him the ring I thought he deserved. But he was a key contributor to the first championship calibur Spurs team I ever watched (I was too young to remember the Spurs' teams that came up short against the Bullets in the late 70's), and of course we Spurs fans will always have this (#9).HONORABLE MENTION
Brent Barry, Speedy Claxton, Robert Horry, Kevin Willis - sure, their jerseys won't hang in the AT&T center, but to me they're kind of similar to the honored Spurs. I feel like we're all big fans of those guys for helping the Spurs win championships. (Yes, Malik Rose and Mario Elie are in that same category, but I was too big a fan of theirs not to put them on my list)
Always a Spur indeed. These are my guys; who are yours?