We are continuing our series of looking at the five Spurs championship squads and what those players are up to now. We already looked at the 1999 squad, where it turns out a lot of those players have remained in the field of basketball, be it coaching, media, or in front offices. Now, it’s time to take a look at 2002-03’s squad, which featured a nice blend of veterans and young, fresh faces — and the start of a dynastic core.
As a reminder, players who appeared on more than one championship squad will only be listed in their first appearance to avoid repetition, so for Tim Duncan, David Robinson, Malik Rose and Steve Kerr, refer back to 1999. Without further ado, here are the 2002-03 Spurs! (And apologies for the blurry team photo. The clearest I could get was from a picture of their Wheaties Box.)
Mengke Bateer (#34) — A Chinese Mongol, Bateer spent parts of three seasons in the NBA from 2002-2004 as part of the international movement but played the majority of his career in China, most recently for Shaanxi Weinan Xingda in 2014 before retiring reportedly due to the onset of diabetes. He has also taken on a bit of an acting career in China, as his Wikipedia page lists four films he appeared in from 2005 to 2017. At least as of 2021, he was president of the Inner Mongolia Basketball Association, part of the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association (WCBA).
Bruce Bowen (#12) — Bowen was the Spurs’ defensive enforcer, winning three championships in San Antonio before retiring in 2009. Since then, he worked for ESPN as an analyst before being hired by Fox Sports West, broadcasting Clippers games for the 2017-18 season. Unfortunately, he fell victim to the Kawhi Leonard saga, as his contract was not renewed after critical comments of how Leonard handled things with the Spurs resurfaced, which was presumably seen as a threat to their chances of landing him in free agency (hint for 2014: they did anyways). Bowen then became head coach for Cornerstone Christian Academy in San Antonio in 2019 and later TMI Episcopal in 2021.
Speedy Claxton (#10) — Claxton only spent one season with the Spurs, but it was a memorable one. After that, he played for three more teams before retiring in 2009 and becoming a scout for the Golden State Warriors. He then returned to his alma mater, Hofstra University, as part of the basketball staff in 2013, and in 2021 he became their head coach, leading the Pride to the Colonial Athletic Association regular season championship and being named CAA Coach of the Year for the 2022-23 season.
Danny Ferry (#35) — One of a trio of veterans who got their long awaited first ring with this squad, Ferry then retired and began an extensive career in NBA front offices, beginning with the Spurs from 2003-2005. He then served as general manager for the Cavaliers from 2005-2010 and President of Basketball Operations for the Hawks from 2012-2016. Unfortunately, things ended tumultuously there when some comments about Luol Deng, whom Ferry wanted to sign, were misconstrued as racist. He took a leave of absence while the Hawks investigated, and although it was all deemed a misunderstanding and he was cleared of any wrongdoing, both sides agreed to a buyout. He then did some work for the Pelicans front office before returning to the Spurs in 2020.
Manu Ginobili (#20) — An all-time fan favorite and perhaps the most selfless player of all time, it’s easy to forget that Manu was just a rookie in 2003 and typically just the 7th or 8th option. Fast-forward 20 years and four championships later, and he has never really left the organization since retiring in 2018. He took a little time to himself while traveling enjoying retirement with his family, but like Duncan he was always “around”, and in 2021 he was officially announced as a special adviser to basketball operations for the Spurs, with hopefully future aspirations within the organization. He was also appointed to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2022.
Stephen Jackson (#3) — And now we go from most beloved to most bitter in SJax, who has had quite the love-hate relationship with the Spurs over the years. While he considered Gregg Popovich to be the first coach who believed in him, he left in the offseason for a bigger contract and became a journeyman most known for receiving a 30-game suspension (second most after Ron Artest) for his role in the Malice at the Palace in 2004 and, on a positive note, being a part of the 2007 “miracle” Warriors team. He eventually returned to the Spurs in 2012 in the Richard Jefferson trade, and at first it was a happy reunion (he admitted to crying tears of joy when learning of the trade), but something went wrong somewhere, and he has mostly been critical of Pop, the Big Three, and the Spurs in general on his podcast, All the Smoke. Nowadays, it’s easiest to just ignore him.
Tony Parker (#9) — The only member of the Big Three who didn’t finish his career in San Antonio, after winning four championships Parker played one season in Charlotte before retiring in 2019. Since then, he has been a busy, busy man. He owns a stake France’s ASVEL team in Lyon and is the majority stakeholder and chairman of its women’s counterpart. He also owns stakes in women’s soccer clubs in the U.S. and France, has a documentary on Netflix called Tony Parker: The Final Shot, and most recently bought the winery Château Saint Laurent in southern France and has developed his own wines. He will be enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on August 12, along with fellow wine enthusiast Gregg Popovich.
Steve Smith (#8) — Another deserving veteran who got his long awaited ring with these Spurs, Smith retired two seasons later and has spent the majority of his post-playing career in broadcasting for the Atlanta Hawks, TNT and NBATV. He also helped fund the Smith Academic Center at his alma mater, Michigan State University, in honor of his late mother Clara Bell Smith, with the $2.5 million donation being the largest gift ever by a professional athlete to any college or university at the time.
Kevin Willis (#42) — Last but not least is deserving veteran number three to get his lone ring, and even though Willis was 40-years-old at the time, he wasn’t done yet. After not playing in the 2005-06 season, at age 44, he signed a 10-day contract with the Mavericks in April 2007 and appeared in five games to become the oldest player to play in two NBA games in a single season, as well as passing up Robert Parish for many age and longevity-related NBA records. Today, he owns his own big and tall men’s clothing business, Willis & Walker, which he founded along with former Michigan State teammate Ralph Walker.
The 2002-03 Spurs was always my favorite championship team before 2014 because of all the happy stories it produced. It was also super satisfying because it helped show 1999 was no fluke and silenced all the doubters. (Also also, it had the best championship DVD, so that helped too). Remember to go check out 1999 if you missed it, and stay tuned for 2005, 2007 and 2014!