When I joined Pounding The Rock two summers ago, I pitched a project that would cover every player who ever wore a Spurs jersey. Not equally, by any means, but each jersey would be identified numerically by the players who wore it.
There is a significance to the numbers of jerseys as it pertains to the five NBA Championships that have been won by the San Antonio Spurs.
There is only one number associated with all five San Antonio Spurs NBA Championships- #21. Tim Duncan. He is coincidentally also the only player to be involved in all five titles.
There are some numbers associated with four Spurs titles. Yes, of course, there is #9 and #20, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili respectively.
But there are three other jerseys which have each been involved with four successful title runs- #2, #4, and #11. In this instance, there is more than one player to wear that number during any given championship berth.
Perhaps no greater pressure to win a title lands on any other player in the history of the Spurs than does the weight that sits on Derrick White. Allow me to explain.
Derrick White joined the Spurs in the summer of 2017 as the 29th pick of the NBA draft. Just as it has been for years, the Spurs have been credited with acquiring a great pick that slipped through until R.C. Buford & Co. made the rest of the league scratch their collective heads. Derrick White was assigned #4. The last four individuals to don the #4 have won an NBA title as part of the San Antonio Spurs. We have a streak here people!
The destiny of #4 was to be Championship bound. As mentioned previously, cuatro made its debut with John Paxson in 1984. Paxson spent his rookie season coming of the bench as a point guard behind Johnny Moore. After two seasons backing Moore, Paxson moved to Chicago as a free agent where he started alongside Michael Jordan. Paxson went on to win three titles as a player and one as an assistant coach. He is still involved with Basketball Operations for the Bulls.
Sure there was a lull in which Byron Dinkins (10 games), Devin Gray (3 games), Darrin Hancock (1 game), and Reggie Geary (1 season as 3rd string point guard). But who happened upon #4 next? Steve Kerr.
Kerr spent one season playing with John Paxson before Paxson retired and became an assistant coach. Then Kerr would mirror Paxson’s 3peat of rings in Chicago along the same tandem of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. He left the Bulls at the end of the 1997-98 season and brought his penchant for title teams to San Antonio. Kerr wore the number 4 from 1999-2001 and earned his 4th consecutive ring with the Spurs’ inaugural 1999 Championship season. Kerr left the Spurs only to return a year later and nail down another ring (albeit as #25, but that’s for another day). Steve Kerr has since gone on to coach for some California team (Golden State Warriors) and resurrect their career with three NBA titles as head coach.
Just like with #2, there was no one wearing #4 in 2003, so the next title appearance of this number was with Sean Marks. Like Paxson and Kerr, Marks has acquired rings as both a player and part of a coaching staff, both with San Antonio. The New Zealand-born Marks played with the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat before joining the Spurs in 2003. He did not play in his first season with the Silver & Black due to a case of patella tendonitis, or jumper’s knee, an inflammation of the tendon in the kneecap. He did however contribute off the bench to the Spurs 2005 Championship season. He played one more season in San Antonio (as #40) and five more overall before retiring as a player in 2011. He joined the Spurs staff in 2012 as basketball operations assistant while simultaneously serving as general manager of the Austin Toros. One year later, he joined Pop and Co. on the sideline as an assistant where he spent 3 years and collected his NBA title as an assistant coach. In 2016, Marks signed a four-year contract as the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets, ever expanding the reach of the Spurs championship pedigree.
Why did Sean Marks change from #4 to #40 over the summer of 2005? To make room for Michael Finley, who up until then had only worn #4. The Dallas Mavericks All-Star joined the Spurs in 2005 as an unrestricted free agent. His prolific combination of scoring, assists, and steals fit the Spurs beautifully, especially as he moved in a role coming off the bench. En route to the Spurs 2007 title, Finley went 8 of 9 from beyond the arc to help clinch the first round in the playoffs besting Bruce Bowen’s record of seven 3s in the postseason.
Unfortunately, Fin Dawg wanted a larger role than the Spurs could offer and he asked PATFO to buy out his contract and waive him in time to catch on with another team. Pop and Finley parted ways cordially upon request. He left in 2010, but the #4 jersey void would not remain.
Enter Danny Green.
Danny Green’s is the story of true Spurs persistence. It is quite possible no other player to wear a Spurs jersey has been more in tune with San Antonio’s Way and System than Danny Green. To be the leader of a team is one thing. To be as over himself as Green represents a completely different level, especially considering the uncertainty with which he traveled on his journey to the top of his game. After trips in and out of the D-League, Danny finally found his true home with the Spurs. He was a solid defender whose greatness was overshadowed by the league’s most elite defender. He has a 3-point shot that briefly had him in the record books for most made 3s in an NBA Finals.
And he took a “pay cut” to stay with the Spurs before he ever cashed in. Green bought in hook, line, and sinker. Without him, the 2014 Finals may not have been obtainable. He had double-digit scoring in each closeout game of the playoffs leading up to the Finals. I don’t know if there has been a player more personally vested in the Spurs, and that is saying a lot considering the cast of stars the Silver & Black boast.
Danny Green traded in his #4 for his preferred #14 after the Spurs won in 2014. He kept his killer defensive tactics and even pulled a blocking stat no one else managed:
Alas, Green is gone- first to Toronto and then to Los Angeles where he is part of a Lebron/LeBrow Lakers that could have brought him his third ring with his third team.
And that brings us to Derrick White. White must keep the streak rolling. Every player to wear #4 in the millennia also bears a ring. Big shoes to fill, young grasshopper, big shoes.
NEXT UP: #11 and it’s four Spurs Championship rings.
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