When I joined Pounding The Rock, 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 jersey 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 five numbers associated with four Spurs titles. #9 (Tony Parker) and #20 Manu Ginobili, as well as #2, #4, and #11.
The next set of jersey numbers are those associated with three of the Spurs NBA titles.
Those numbers are 3, 5, 8, 12, 17, and 33. Today we look at #12.
Sunday was Bruce Bowen’s birthday. He is after all, the only player to wear that number in the NBA Finals for the Silver & Black. He is the only former Spurs player to have won exactly three titles with the franchise.
And #12 is almost completely his in the sense that not many people before him wore it. Of course, the #12 has now come out of retirement and has spent half a decade with LaMarcus Aldridge.
But before Bruce Bowen joined the Spurs and got into his trademark #12, five other players donned the jersey:
“Sugar” was originally drafted by the Chicago Bulls and the Kentucky Colonels in 1971 and chose the ABA, where he and Artis Gilmore played together.
After Kentucky, Gale played in New York with the Nets alongside Billy Paultz, Larry Kenon and Dr. J (Julius Irving). The Nets won an ABA Championship with Gale at the helm in 1974.
Acquired from the ABA’s New York Nets for cash in June 1975, the Philadelphia native was instrumental in the Spurs’ transition to the NBA. As James Silas battled injuries, Gale led the team in assists his first three NBA seasons. An outstanding free-throw shooter, the six-foot-four guard hit 80% from the line five straight seasons. But defense was Gale’s hallmark, a trait the teams still values. He led the Spurs in steals three of his five seasons with the Silver & Black
And then, of course, the was the “jersey incident.”
If you expand the image from the 1978 Sports Illustrated cover, you can see Mike Gale trailing the fast break wearing an inside-out Washington Bullets jersey. When the Spurs arrived in the nation’s capital for Game 6 of the 1978 Eastern Conference semifinals against Washington, Gale’s luggage didn’t.
To add insult to injury, the Spurs lost the game, eliminating them from the playoffs.
Of Bowen’s predecessors, only Mike Gale spent significant time as a Spur. Despite respectable shooting (46.7% and 82.4% from the field and the line respectively) he was overshadowed by James Silas and George Gervin, leaving him to average 8 points per game throughout his Spurs tenure.
He was traded along with a first round draft pick on December 19, 1982 to the Portland Trail Blazers for Ron Brewer.
Mike Gale still lives in San Antonio and has been seen rooting on the Spurs to this day.
Next number: Five players, sixty-four games, over a quarter century separates them . . .
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