Every franchise in every sport has those players that define a generation of fans. Unfortunately for some, those players don’t always lead their teams to titles, but years down the road, they talk about how great it was to grow up rooting for them. Take some of the other NBA teams that have yet to hang a banner in their arena, like the Phoenix Suns or Orlando Magic. I’m sure you could walk around Phoenix and hear fans talking about Kevin Johnson, Steve Nash, and Walter Davis, or in Orlando, those conversations might be about Nick Anderson, Penny Hardaway, and Dwight Howard.
The San Antonio Spurs definitely have their fair share of players who left an indelible mark on young fans who spent their formative years seeing them play in the HemisFair Arena, Alamodome, or AT&T Center. I’m lucky enough to say I was born at a time that once I was really beginning to understand differences between players, the future of the Spurs was about to change. Just before I turned seven, what Marc Stein aptly deemed Lady Lottery, shined her spotlight on the team for a second time.
San Antonio will soon make the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft for the third time and are widely expected to select French phenom Victor Wembanyama. @TheSteinLine traces the Spurs' fortuitous history with Lady Luck...or, as she’s known in their case, Lady Lottery: pic.twitter.com/L0NJFahAdD— Bally Sports Southwest (@BallySportsSW) June 20, 2023
Everything seemed to have aligned for this to happen, as the Spurs dealt with a slew of injuries throughout the season, which led to them having the third-worst record in the league. However, the Spurs ended up with the second-best odds at No. 1 due to a favorable rule that prevented expansion teams from being eligible for it, so instead, the Vancouver Grizzlies wound up picking fourth. Once all the ping pong balls were collected and the cards were all revealed, Spurs fans, as well as Peter Holt, rejoiced as they knew they were about to draft the consensus No. 1 prospect. That prospect was none other than Tim Duncan, who had just finished his college career as the all-time leader in rebounds, was second in double-doubles and blocks, and was named the Naismith Player of the Year.
Seven-year-old me would get to watch Duncan go on to win Rookie of the Year, become an All-Star, make second team All-Defense, and make first team All-NBA (something that hasn’t been done by a rookie since). The next year, during a lockout season, I’d watch him lead the team to their first title — which was the first title a team I rooted for would win in my lifetime. It’s safe to say that I knew I’d be telling everybody my all-time favorite basketball player was Timmy and that I’d be prepared to argue with anybody who tried to slander his status in the game.
These fan-favorites don’t only shape us as fans, but they shape us as players, too. I’m willing to bet that every Spurs fan who played basketball after 1997 has stood about 10-feet away from the basket, made a couple of jab steps, and hoisted a shot off the glass trying to emulate Duncan. He made me want to practice my fundamentals, literally. Dribbling, passing, rebounding, and yes, where on the backboard a shot should hit dependent on where I’m shooting from: these are all aspects of the game I’d work on solely because I was a Spurs fan growing up in the Duncan-era.
Every year, the excitement would build as the start of the NBA season grew near because I knew that meant I got to watch Duncan and the Spurs strive to win a title, then a second, then a third, all the way until the Race for Seis started in October of 2014. And it was that year, 2014, when my girlfriend and I started going to the home opener every season. Then, on July 11, 2016, that girlfriend would see me become emotional about a basketball player announcing their retirement. Tim Duncan was the leader of my favorite team from when I was seven to six days before I turned 26, so I think she understood why it mattered to me.
That girlfriend would eventually become my wife, and on this past June 1, she’d give birth to our first child, McKenzie. Being around our daughter every day as the NBA Draft approached, I thought about the possibility of her becoming a Spurs fan, and I’m taken back to 1997. I can’t help but find it coincidental that the stars seemed to have aligned again for the Spurs and history may have just repeated itself.
Just like in ‘97, the Spurs ended the year with the third-worst record. Just like in ’97, rules implemented by the NBA helped the Spurs’ chances at landing the first pick. And just like in ’97, the ping pong balls fell in favor of the Spurs and a Peter Holt would celebrate on stage with the deputy commissioner as they knew the team was about to draft the consensus No. 1 prospect who might change how the next 20 years look for the franchise.
She won’t be old enough to remember watching Victor Wembanyama’s first few years as a San Antonio Spur, but by the time he hits his prime, she’ll be the same age I was when Duncan was drafted. We’ll get to watch Spurs games together, and I’ll get to watch her become enamored with what Wemby is able to do on a court.
She’ll want to go outside and practice one-legged three-pointers, between-the-leg dribble moves, and how to be a great defender. She’ll want his jersey, his autograph, and his signature shoe.
Hopefully, I’ll get to watch her celebrate him leading the Spurs to their first title since she became old enough to have a rooting interest. I’ll get to take her downtown and go honking with the other Spurs fans in San Antonio. I’ll get to overhear her outsmarting her friends in a discussion about whom the best player in the NBA is. These are things I’m looking forward to as a parent and a Spurs fan, and I’m positive I’m not the only one.
To reiterate a point I made earlier, I was lucky enough to come of age with Tim Duncan leading my favorite team. Spurs fans my age, and even those older and younger who experienced those years, are all going to talk about what it was like. We’re also going to talk about what happened after he retired — we’ll explain everything that led up to the 2023 NBA Draft.
Now, my daughter and the new generation of Spurs fans are about to embark on a journey with the team’s next franchise player. While I may still be young enough to follow along with everything Wemby does for the team throughout the entirety of his career, there’s nothing quite like growing up with a player like this. I can’t wait to see all the young fans around the city trying to be like Wemby, especially when it comes to McKenzie.