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.
Number 7- Sean Elliott
Sean Elliott joined the San Antonio Spurs just as something special was happening in the Alamo City. Elliott didn’t content himself with remaining in the shadow of greatness, he stood alongside a giant and made significant contributions. His talent, positive attitude, and championship mentality created one of the Spurs’ most memorable playoff moments, and led directly to their first NBA Championship. Season after season Elliott’s relentless pursuit for greatness added to a culture that was defining and separating itself from the rest of the NBA.
In 1989, the San Antonio Spurs were coming off their worst season in franchise history. The impending arrival of David Robinson was causing a citywide frenzy of excitement. Head Coach Larry Brown was unknowingly preparing for what would become the greatest single-season turnaround in NBA history.* The pieces he was assembling would not only get the Spurs out of slump, but would build the team that would take the Spurs through their first Championship in 1999.
*The 35 game improvement would be bettered by the 97-98 Spurs (36 games) and bested by the 07-08 Boston Celtics (42 games)
On June 27, 1989, the Spurs drafted Sean Elliott 3rd, and he joined the top pick of the 1987 draft, David Robinson. Together they began the long road to rebuilding the Spurs. In each of his first six seasons with the Spurs, Elliott’s scoring increased from 10 eventually to 20 points per game.
Elliott’s playing style derived flowed from his length and speed. His wiry frame and 3-point accuracy led defenders to play him on the perimeter awaiting long jump shots. But Sean used his quickness to cut into the paint, often losing one defender and forcing another to either leave Robinson for him or, most often, standing pat in a lose/lose situation. As a result, highlight reels of Sean Elliott dunks are readily available. Unafraid to take the ball to the basket, Elliott would collide with defenders, rise up, and muscle his shot in. But his game was far more than just dunks — there were assists, a variety of jump shots, free throws, 3-pointers and an arsenal of lethal ball-handling that made him essential to the Spurs 90’s rise.
In 1993, with his points per game, assists, and steals at career highs, Elliott made his first NBA All-Star appearance with Robinson.
Unfortunately, at the end of the 1993 season, the Spurs traded Sean Elliott and David Wood to the Detroit Pistons for rebound sensation Dennis Rodman. The fit would prove a bust as Elliott’s scoring declined and wasn’t able to gel with with Piston leaders. He stayed just one season with Detroit before a trade with the Houston Rockets for Robert Horry was put into motion.
But the trade with the Rockets was never finalized. Elliott didn’t pass the physical and his kidney condition —focal glomerulosclerosis— was exposed. Although he had the condition which prevents the kidneys from properly filtering waste from the blood- the Pistons had agreed to the trade to dispose of Rodman. In the end, the Spurs traded back to Detroit obtaining Elliott for Billy Curley and the second round pick that became Charles O’Bannon.
In the time between when the Elliott/Horry trade failed to materialize and when the Spurs regained #32, Sean briefly considered retirement, but eventually decided to suit up once again.
Along with Robinson’s MVP dominance and point guard Avery Johnson’s ability to dish out assists, a Spurs Big 3 was forming — long before the term would ever be coined for the trio of Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker. It was just a matter of time before the skill sets of the Spurs would mature.
While averaging 20 points per game in 1996, Sean was once again invited to the NBA All-Star game, which was taking place on his home court in the Alamodome. In one glorious season, Sean would execute his most memorable feat, win an NBA Championship, and undergo a kidney transplant.
The 1999 season did not begin well for the Spurs. A 6-8 run was giving players and fans doubts about the eventual outcome. Elliott had missed 46 games the previous season, but his game was slowly returning. With the addition of Tim Duncan to the Spurs starting line-up, Sean Elliott’s floor spacing ability became even more lethal. While hopes were rising, the Spurs went on a 31-5 run to complete the shortened lockout season and enter the playoffs the top seed in the NBA. Elliott eventually shot 40% from beyond the arc while scoring 11.9 PPG in the playoffs. But it wasn’t just Sean’s consistency that drove the team. Elliott holds what is often considered THE defining momentum booster of the 1999 Championship- The Memorial Day Miracle:
With 12 seconds left, the Spurs were down by two points without having ever held a lead in the game. Mario Elie passed the ball into Elliott who caught it on the out-of-bounds line and —in a fluid movement— turned, shot the ball over a towering Rasheed Wallace, and landed the Spurs their first lead of the evening, and a leg up in the series. The shift in momentum was enough to raise the Spurs to the level of champions. You can watch the amazing shot from multiple angles in this clip:
The Spurs ended the season with a championship, and shortly thereafter Sean Elliott underwent a kidney transplant, a gift from his brother Noel.
In a true show of heroics, Elliott returned to the Spurs months after the transplant to complete the 2000 season. He continued as a starter during the 2000-2001 season as the Spurs finished with the best record in the NBA. But at the end of the season, Elliott determined it was time to retire from basketball.
Though his time on the court had ended, Elliott maintained his place in the game as a Spurs TV Analyst. Along with his partner Bill Land, Spurs fans are treated night after night to announcers who truly love their jobs and are complete fans of their team. They are unapologetic Spurs homer announcers often using “we” when talking about the Spurs, and the fans love it. Year after year, their ratings rank among the highest in the NBA. Sean Elliott, always a fan favorite, transcended the court and has maintained an essential role with the Spurs.
On March 6, 2005, Sean Elliott was honored by the Spurs organization by having #32 retired and his jersey hung from the rafters of the AT&T Center.
Next up: Love him for his play or hate him for his antics, he’s still one of the best to ever wear the Silver & Black.
Welcome to the Thread. Join in the conversation, start your own discussion, and share your thoughts. This is the Spurs community, your Spurs community. Thanks for being here.
Our community guidelines apply which should remind everyone to be cool, avoid personal attacks, not to troll and to watch the language.