As the San Antonio Spurs organization marks its 50th year, the team is putting on a celebration worthy of its first half-century — hosting an anniversary game in the Alamodome that’s on track to set a new NBA attendance record.
With a national brand that’s nearly as recognizable as the city itself, the team has come a long way since first putting down roots in 1973.
With five championships during its five decades, the team has made its mark on the history, economy, art and landscape of Bexar County, permeating San Antonio’s imagination as well as its culture.
Here’s a look back through the last 50 years of the San Antonio Spurs.
Oct. 10, 1973: Spurs tip off their first game in San Antonio
The Dallas Chaparrals franchise moves to San Antonio and begins play in the American Basketball Association as the San Antonio Spurs, tipping off their first game in the city on Oct. 10, 1973, against the San Diego Conquistadors. With the name change comes a switch from the Chaparrals’ red, white and blue to the Spurs’ iconic team colors of black, silver and white.
Owned by a group of business leaders that included Angelo Drossos, B.J. “Red” McCombs, John Schaefer and Art Burdick, the Spurs play their first season before small crowds at HemisFair Arena.
Aug. 5, 1976: NBA absorbs ABA
The ABA folds in 1976, and on Aug. 5 the San Antonio Spurs join the National Basketball Association, along with three other top-performing ABA teams — the New York Nets, Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets — for the 1976-1977 season.
They get off to a quick start, winning five division titles in seven years.
June 22, 1987: Spurs’ lucky draft draw nets David Robinson
An abysmal 28-54 finish in the 1986-87 season positions the Spurs to win the NBA draft lottery and select center David Robinson with the top pick overall. However, as a product of the U.S. Naval Academy, he is required to fulfill his military obligation and does not join the team until the 1989-90 season.
Robinson goes on to spend all 14 years of his NBA career with the Spurs, winning two NBA Championships and being selected the NBA’s most valuable player in 1995.
May 27, 1988: Red McCombs purchases team for $47M
In 1988, McCombs purchases control of the team for $47 million from Drossos and vows the Spurs will stay in San Antonio — as long as they can ensure that “fans fill the rafters,” according to a Deseret News article at the time.
Feb. 19, 1993: McCombs sells the Spurs to local investors
In early 1993, McCombs sells his interest in the team to a group of 20 local investors headed by businessman Bob Coleman — an effort aimed at ensuring that the franchise remains in San Antonio.
Nov. 5, 1993: Spurs play first game in Alamodome
In 1993, the team moves across Interstate 37 to play in the new Alamodome after 20 seasons in the HemisFair Arena. In their first-ever game in the Alamodome, the Spurs beat the Golden State Warriors, 91-85, before 36,523 spectators.
June 1996: The Holt family buys into the Spurs
Peter M. Holt, known for leading the largest Caterpillar Inc. dealership in the country, acquires an initial 13% stake in the team from USAA. Under the Holt family’s ownership, the Spurs win five NBA titles and qualify for the NBA playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons.
Dec. 10, 1996: Popovich takes over as Spurs coach
No Spurs retrospective would be complete without a nod to Coach Gregg Popovich, who holds the longest tenure of any coach in the NBA with 27 years as head coach — more than half the team’s lifespan.
As the Spurs’ general manager, Popovich fires Coach Bob Hill and establishes himself in the role, a move that was not without controversy. With Robinson injured, the Spurs had started the season 3-15.
May 18, 1997: Spurs get lucky in the draft lottery — again
After a 20-62 season in which the team was without an injured Robinson for most of the year, the Spurs win the NBA draft lottery again, choosing Wake Forest forward Tim Duncan as the top pick.
Duncan becomes instrumental to his team’s success, winning more than 70% of his games with the Spurs, netting them four championships and Duncan two league MVP trophies.
June 25, 1999: Spurs win first championship
The Spurs win their first NBA championship, capping a lockout-shortened 50-game season by beating the New York Knicks in five games in the NBA Finals.
Duncan was named series MVP.
Oct. 18, 2002: The Spurs move to the East Side
The Spurs open the 2002-03 season on Oct. 18 at the new SBC Center, built on the city’s East Side.
After less than a decade in the cavernous Alamodome, team ownership had sought a more intimate arena with better sight lines for basketball. While the City of San Antonio planned to build a new arena near that facility, the Spurs instead partnered with Bexar County to build near Joe Freeman Coliseum on the East Side.
After SBC Communications Inc. merged with AT&T in 2006, the county-owned arena took on its new name, the AT&T Center.
June 15, 2003: Spurs win championship No. 2
The Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs defeat the Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Nets for their second title on their home court at the SBC Center. By this point, the Spurs had picked up young talent like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson.
Duncan is named series MVP.
June 23, 2005: Spurs win a third championship
With two championships under their belts, the Spurs face off with the three-time champion Detroit Pistons in the 2005 NBA Finals. The Spurs bested the defending champion Pistons in seven games.
Tim Duncan is named series MVP.
June 14, 2007: Spurs sweep Cavaliers to win a fourth championship
In 2007 the Spurs leave no doubt, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games to win their fourth championship.
The Spurs’ Tony Parker is named the finals MVP.
June 15, 2014: Spurs win a fifth championship
In a rematch of the 2013 NBA Finals, the San Antonio Spurs face off against the Miami Heat in the 2014 Finals. The 2013 Finals loss to the Heat in seven games was the first time in Spurs franchise history that they appeared in the finals but didn’t win.
Besting Miami’s “Big Three” of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, the Spurs’ deep bench carries them through the series to claim the championship in five games.
The Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is named Finals MVP.
The victory sets off elaborate celebrations in San Antonio, culminating in a River parade.
March 11, 2022: Popovich sets NBA record for coaching victories
The Spurs defeat the Utah Jazz, 104-102, at the AT&T Center to make Popovich the NBA’s all-time leader in regular season coaching victories with 1,336 wins. He breaks the record held by Don Nelson, who hired Popovich as an assistant with the Golden State Warriors and also coached the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks.
May 10, 2022: Holt assures San Antonio the team is here to stay
The team seeks approval to play home games in Austin and Mexico City, sparking rumors and worry among fans that the Spurs might be on the lookout for a new home. Spurs owner Peter J. Holt writes an open letter to the people of San Antonio meant to quell any doubts about the Spurs’ commitment to their hometown.
Jan. 13, 2023: Spurs aim at all-time attendance record
The Spurs announce they have sold enough tickets for Friday night’s game at the Alamodome to set the attendance record for an NBA game, drawing some 65,000 spectators.