This year the Spurs are celebrating their 50th season in San Antonio. There have been many highs and a few lows. One trademark of the San Antonio Spurs has been their culture and their consistency. The keys to those qualities lie in their players. Always noted for development as well as being ahead of the curve on scouting international players, the Spurs way has made the franchise one of the most successful of all time. As we look back on the Silver & Black, we recognize the top 50 players in Spurs history. Each day, we will move up the countdown.
33 - Mike Gale
How would Avery Johnson or Bruce Bowen be remembered by Spurs fans if they hadn’t won championships? Surely they would still be loved, but they certainly wouldn’t have had their jerseys hanging from the rafters of the AT&T Center.
It’s sometimes thankless to be a solid role player on less-than-elite teams, which is something Mike “Sugar” Gale can probably relate to. The guard was a force, especially on the defensive end, for some good-not-great late 70s Spurs teams that have been fully overshadowed by the more successful iterations of the recent past. He wasn’t a star or even a full-time starter in his time in San Antonio, and his numbers don’t jump off the page, but it’s impossible to tell the story of the franchise without mentioning him.
Gale was traded to the Spurs in 1975 and would spend over four years wearing the Silver and Black, a stint that included the transition from the ABA to the NBA in 1976. The 6’4” guard averaged just a shade over eight points in his time in San Antonio but was still a key part of the rotation, both off the bench and as a starter, thanks to his playmaking and ability to rack up steals. He elevated his game in the playoffs, especially in his first year with the Spurs once James Silas got hurt, but he simply couldn’t help the team get over the hump. Those George Gervin-led squads came painfully close to making the Finals in 1979, taking a 3-1 lead against the Bullets in the conference finals, but they couldn’t hold it and were eliminated in a controversial Game 7.
An NBA title to go with the ABA one he won with the Kentucky Colonels in the 1973/74 ABA season would have been a great achievement for Gale, but his 11-year career is impressive enough without it. Two All-Defense appearances, being part of some great teams alongside stars like Artis Gilmore, Dan Issel, Julius Erving, and Gervin, and making his mark without being a big-time scorer are nothing to scoff at.
Perhaps more importantly, Gale’s career allowed him to find his home. The Philadelphia native settled down in San Antonio, where he lived until his passing in 2020 at the age of 70. He was embraced by the franchise and the city he loved, which probably meant more to him than any accolades.
Mike Gale was not a star and didn’t have the stats or the highlights that will draw the attention of people like me, who didn’t get to see him play. But Spurs fans, arguably more than fans of any other franchise, know the value of high-character role players ready to step up when needed, and know to look past numbers to give credit where it's due.
Next up: the Cap’n is ready for adventure.
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