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. Today we start at #50.
50- Rod Strickland
Rod Strickland is likely thought of first as a Washington Bullet and second as a Trail Blazer, and less remembered for his time in San Antonio, which coincided with the beginning of David Robinson’s career and the franchise’s emergence as a perennial playoff fixture.
Despite just 2-and-a-half volatile seasons in South Texas, Strickland sneaks in at 50 as a productive, starting floor general during the Spurs’ return to relevance. His acquisition was a swapping of malcontents at the time, Strickland openly frustrated coming off the bench behind Mark Jackson and Maurice Cheeks, sent in exchange for Strickland, who was so opposed to settling in South Texas that he opted to reside in a Holiday Inn by the airport.
Strickland popped when he was able to get on the floor, thanks to a wicked first step, a deep bag of moves, and crafty, acrobatic finishes around the rim. He’s also ubiquitous in Robinson’s early highlight reels, often serving up the future Hall of Famer for thunderous dunks. His averages in San Antonio of 13.9 points, 8.2 assists and 4 rebounds reflect his talent and the impact he could have, again, when he was on the floor. Between his age (just 23 when sent from New York in the middle of his second NBA season) and ability to break down defenses, there was reason to envision a long-term pairing with the 24-year-old Admiral, as well as a timeline where he finishes much higher on this list.
And while sour Spurs fans of a certain age lament his ill-fated behind-the-back pass in Game 7 against Portland, the main reason Strickland didn’t stick around, and why he lands at *just* 50 was the off-the-court stuff. He missed time in his second season after breaking his hand in a fight outside a San Antonio nightclub. He was charged with indecent exposure at a Seattle hotel later that season and sat out the first 24 games of the following season as part of a contract dispute. These 3 things are not the same, but they collectively together paint the profile of a person who an organization was willing to let walk in free agency rather than continue to invest in, despite rare basketball talents.
There’s an idea of a franchise point guard — and more specifically the then-still-forming idea of a Spurs franchise point guard — and that includes a bar for actions and decision-making that the young Strickland repeatedly fell short of. In that way, he’s a fitting bookend to this list and table-setter for the personas and eras that followed.
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