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The Spurs’ return to the Alamodome shifted the focus

Spectacle and nostalgia shared the stage in San Antonio’s record-breaking throwback event, with some less remarkable basketball mixed in.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

You can stoke nostalgia in fans of a certain age with just a reference point: Memorial Day Miracle. Vinny Del Negro. Get a few in a room, show some old footage of water cannons and a big blue curtain, and you’ve got a real stew brewing. Samaki Walker, Madonna, things of that nature.

The Spurs’ 50-year retrospective hasn’t been exactly subtle, all bobble heads, tribute videos and familiar faces from the past, but it’s safe to place Friday’s return to the Alamodome in its own tier of commemorating all things Silver and Black (and orange, turquoise and pink). The championship riverfloat on display, various murals, halftime performance of “Whoomp! There It Is”, and arena shoutouts to bygone players and moments combined for an immersive experience in the team’s old stomping grounds, capped when David Robinson took the court between quarters to make the record-breaking night official, announcing an attendance of 68,323, the most ever in a non-exhibition NBA game.

“It was a different type of noise out there today,” said Tre Jones of playing in the Alamodome, who led the Spurs with 21 points and 5 assists, as well as kicking off the night by addressing the fans. “It was crazy, something I’ll never forget.”

The less said of what else happened on that floor, the better, with the visiting Warriors coasting to a 31-point win, the Spurs giving up back-to-back 40-point quarters, and Donte DiVincenzo and Jordan Poole spelling the Splash Brothers for the night.

Fortunately, if there was ever a night to run with Gregg Popovich’s adage about focusing on what’s bigger than basketball, it would seem the Spurs took that in full, not only thematically but also creating a literal sense of scale that shrunk the basketball court amid a sea of fans. Whether it was the fervor or the price of admission keeping them around, the upper bowl was still flooded (and doing a minute-long wave) well into the lost final period.

“The fans enjoyed themselves,” said Pop after the game. “Even though we were getting our a** kicked. They seemed to be having a hell of a time, so there must have been a lot of beer sales out there.”

The Spurs coach was understandably in higher spirits than normal following a rout. And while he said he enjoyed the spectacle of the evening, he noted that what resonated with him more took place the night before when he was able to get together for dinner and wine with former players that were brought together for the game.

“[I reflect] only when I see people that I haven’t seen in a while, that sort of thing. You know, Avery and I talk on the phone, but I don’t get to see him very often. Steve [Kerr] and I talk on the phone, but I don’t get to see him very often. That sort of thing, that’s fun. As we go through the season it’ll be that way.”

Pop’s answer highlights the extensiveness of both his roots with the team and connections throughout the league — every night is another overdue embrace, another opportunity to jog down memory lane. It’s those relationships, he says, developed through time, and their reunions, that he values. If they come with a bit of pomp and circumstance, so be it.

For the Warriors’ Kerr, who played in San Antonio between 1998 and 2003, the answer to a similar question offered a more straightforward response: “Yeah, Sean Elliott’s shot. Memorial Day Miracle... that’s the play I think of when I think of the Dome.”

While the tenor of a rebuilding season is often about selling an amorphous hope for the future, we’re reminded of what makes following this Spurs team different. Five titles, including the first that passed through a repurposed football arena. Singular moments and decades of sustained success. Antonio Daniels’ full extension dunks, and the like.

In lieu of a win on Friday, the return to the Alamodome gave fans, players and coaches alike their own way of engaging with that past.