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Tim Duncan really was destined to be a San Antonio Spur

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It turns out the team’s fortunes were two-fold the night of the 1997 Lottery.

San Antonio Spurs1997 Draft Lottery Winner
The genesis of the Spurs playoff run started with winning the Draft Lottery a mere 23 years ago
Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Though the San Antonio Spurs, as expected, walked away from Thursday night’s Draft Lottery with the 11th pick, ESPN’s Senior NBA Writer Zach Lowe provided a sampling of tasty morsels about lotteries past and present. Lowe provided details into the hidden processes behind what is now one of the most important league events annually. He noted that for teams who way-too-frequently occupied the dais and didn’t seem to benefit from several high draft picks at these lottery events, such as the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks, and Charlotte Hornets, “it gets depressing when teams collect too many souvenirs from lottery wins.”

And as someone on the national scene who is known for frequently and gushingly nerding out over the Spurs’ accomplishments over the last several years, Lowe later provided San Antonio fans with this nugget from its 1997 lottery win that netted us Tim Duncan. Though teams have tended to send representatives out with lucky objects to curry favor with the ping pong deities, Lowe recalls the Spurs not engaging in any of it and more importantly did what its rosters did best - win over and over consistently:

R.C. Buford, the San Antonio Spurs longtime GM and now their CEO, had no superstitions planned — no trinkets or lucky shirts — for the team’s first trip to the lottery since landing Tim Duncan in 1997. Buford vividly remembers watching that lottery from his office in San Antonio. “I think I leaped a foot off my chair when we won,” he said. He recalled Sam Schuler, the Spurs’ rep in the drawing room that night, relaying to Buford and Gregg Popovich that the Spurs had actually won twice — the ping pong ball machine had spit out another four-ball combination belonging to San Antonio after the winning draw. (The league discards such repeats and moves on.) “Sam told us the rest of the room was pissed,” Buford recalled, laughing. “And then they were really pissed.”

Though it’s absurd to think of any scenario where the NBA would have allowed the Spurs to sneak away with the top two draft picks (with the #2 pick being University of Utah forward Keith Van Horn), it is nonetheless amazing that the first two lottery combinations belonged to our franchise and portended the two decades of playoff runs success that were to follow. And yes, that 1997-1998 “Triple Tower” starting lineup might have had some more legitimacy with Robinson, Duncan, and Van Horn (as opposed to lumbering Will Perdue).


We hope you are looking forward to previewing some of the team’s upcoming potential targets in the days leading up to the Draft!