Share story


So, how did the San Antonio Spurs turn into a model NBA franchise?

May 17, 1987: Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. In 1987, the Spurs certainly aren’t good, winning just 28 games. Lucky, they are. San Antonio has the fourth-worst record in the league, but pulls the No. 1 pick at the draft lottery.

June 22, 1987: The Spurs use the pick to select David Robinson, even though they would have to wait for him to fulfill his two-year commitment to the Navy. He proves to be worth the wait.

June 27, 1989: The Spurs, with the third pick after another bad season, draft Arizona star Sean Elliott.

1989-90 season: With an almost-new roster featuring rookies Elliott and Robinson, plus veterans Terry Cummings and Maurice Cheeks, the Spurs go from worst to first, improving an NBA-record 35 games. They lose to Portland in a seven-game Western Conference semifinals series.

Jan. 21, 1992: The Spurs fire coach Larry Brown in midseason, replacing him with Bob Bass. Without Robinson, who is injured, they lose in the first round of the playoffs.

April 15, 1992: Owner Red McCombs hires Jerry Tarkanian, a great college coach.

Dec. 18, 1992: McCombs fires Jerry Tarkanian, who had proven in 20 NBA games to be … a great college coach. John Lucas is hired to replace Tark.

1993-94 season: Robinson leads the league in scoring and Dennis Rodman — acquired in a trade with Detroit for Elliott — leads the league in rebounding. Spurs win 55 games, but lose in first round of playoffs. Lucas leaves to become coach and GM of 76ers.

1994-95 season: Under new coach Bob Hill (hey, that name sounds familiar), Spurs win 62 games, but again fall short of the NBA Finals, losing to Houston in the Western Conference finals. Spurs are led by MVP Robinson, Rodman, Vinny Del Negro, Avery Johnson and Elliott, who had been reacquired after one year with the Pistons.

Oct. 2, 1995: Spurs get tired of Rodman’s act and trade him to Chicago.

1996-97 season: After seven straight winning seasons, the Spurs fall apart. Robinson misses most of the season with an injury and the Spurs fire Hill and replace him with Gregg Popovich. They finish with a record of 20-62.

May 18, 1997: The Spurs being the Spurs, this all works out just fine. San Antonio lucks out again in the lottery, winning the No. 1 pick, which they use a month later on Tim Duncan.

1997-98 season: Duncan is rookie of the year, first-team All-NBA, Spurs win 56 games, but still can’t get to Finals.

July 1, 1998: NBA owners declare a lockout, which eventually delays the start of the season by two months.

June 25, 1999: Led by Duncan, Robinson and Elliott, plus newcomers Mario Elie, Jerome Kersey, Steve Kerr and Antonio Daniels, Spurs beat the Knicks in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden to win their first NBA title.

2000, 2001, 2002 seasons: Spurs win at least 53 games each of these three seasons, but can’t get back to the Finals.

June 15, 2003: The Spurs send The Admiral into retirement with a second title, beating the New Jersey Nets in the first NBA Finals matching former ABA teams. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are a nice outside complement to the inside tandem of Duncan and Robinson, and Bruce Bowen handles the dirty work. Just ask Ray Allen.

June 23, 2005: Pushed to Game 7 for the first time in the Finals, the Spurs put away Detroit to claim their third title. Duncan wins his third Finals MVP honor.

Bill Reader