At the end of the 1972-1973 ABA season the Dallas Chaparrals moved to San Antonio. The Chaparrals were around for six seasons and had a winning record three times. When the franchise moved south they began to consistently win. Forty years later they're still winning a lot more games than they lose.
In 1973 the Virginia Squires were in a financial mess. Spurs ownership loaned Virginia $225,000 and took George Gervin as collateral. When the Squires never repaid San Antonio, Gervin became the first star player for San Antonio. He averaged more than 21 points a game and 7.5 rebounds a contest. During four ABA seasons San Antonio had a winning record each year. Their overall record was 190-144.
Prior to the start of the 1976-1977 season the Spurs, Nuggets, Pacers, and Nets became a part of the NBA when the two leagues merged. Despite terms of the merger that treated the four franchises as expansion squads, meaning they had to pay a fee to join the league, did not share in NBA television revenue for three seasons, and had no picks in the Kentucky Colonels and Spirits of St. Louis dispersal draft that included Artis Gilmore and Moses Malone, San Antonio immediately experienced success.
While the Nets missed the playoffs four times in their first five seasons, the Pacers qualified for the postseason once in their first decade in the league and didn't win a playoff series until 1994, and the Nuggets started strong but after reaching the Western Conference Finals in 1979 regressed badly and to this day have returned to the Western Finals just twice and never won them, the Spurs just kept on winning. San Antonio made the playoffs in each of their first seven NBA seasons including three Conference Final appearances. They have missed the playoffs just four times in 37 seasons. Their most recent poor season, 1996-1997, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
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After winning 55, 62, and 59 games in three seasons leading up to '96-'97, San Antonio hit a rough patch when star center David Robinson was injured. Robinson had been drafted in 1987 and there was some uncertainty whether he would come to San Antonio. First, because he was in the Navy he had an active duty obligation, and after he spent time as a civil engineer for the Naval Reserves, he had the option of reentering the draft. He opted to sign with the Spurs, helped engineer the biggest single season turnaround in NBA history at the time, and prior to 1996-1997 he had won two straight MVP awards.
When the Spurs went 20-62 without Robinson they finished the year with the third worst record in the league. In their only lottery appearance in the history of the franchise, San Antonio won the ping-pong ball battle and earned the right to draft Tim Duncan. The seven players selected after Duncan were Keith Van Horn, Chauncey Billups, Antonio Daniels, Tony Battie, Ron Mercer, Tim Thomas, and Adonal Foyle.
With Robinson and Duncan San Antonio won 56 games in 1997-1998. Duncan was named NBA Rookie of the Year averaging 21 points per game and tallying nearly 12 rebounds a contest. After being knocked out in the second round of the playoffs, San Antonio was poised for more success the following season. While 1998-1998 brought a lockout that reduced the season to 50 games, the Spurs were strong from the start going 37-13. They went 15-2 in the playoffs becoming the first and only ABA team to win an NBA Title. In 2002-2003 Robinson and Duncan teamed up on a second championship.
When Robinson retired following his second title, Manu Ginobili's role on the team picked up significantly. Drafted towards the end of the second round in 1999, Ginobili left Italy for the Spurs just in time to play a small part in San Antonio's second title. His career stats, 15 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists per game while shooting 45 percent from the floor and 38 percent from behind the arc are good but not great. However, the way he sees the game, his impact on the floor can not be fully appreciated using numbers.
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The other key on the court for continuing a run of dominance was the selection of point guard Tony Parker with the final pick in the 2001 draft's first round. Picked right after Samuel Dalembert and Jamaal Tinsley, Parker has more than 5,000 career assists and has averaged better than 17 points a game during a 12 year NBA career.
With Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and coach Greg Popovich the Spurs have gone on to two more titles. For Popovich, a longtime San Antonio assistant, that is four championships, and more than 1,500 wins. While we talk a lot about the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, and Heat, San Antonio's four titles since 1998 are one fewer than LA, three more than Boston, four more than Chicago, and two more than Miami. The Spurs are a dynasty. They have been since moving from Dallas four decades ago.