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Every Spurs home game – except on Tuesdays, when she bowls – Olivia Ladson takes her spot in the southeastern corner of the AT&T Center’s lowest level, by the floor seats.
The 91-year-old usher has been working at the arena since it opened in 2002. She previously worked at the Alamodome when the Spurs played there; she marked her 20th anniversary with the team in September. Win or lose, the Spurs are Ladson’s team.
“That’s what’s keeping me here!” Ladson said. “The love of the Spurs.”
Ladson has watched the players arrive, leave, and grow up from a perspective not many get to share. To get to her regular ushering spot, she walks down a hallway adorned with large paintings of the team over the years, a chronology of Spurs history (embellished with some glitter for extra oomph) that records player changes and documents some of them from babyfaced rookies to grizzled veterans.
This month, she worked the night Tony Parker’s jersey was retired, observing the ceremony honoring one of the Spurs she had watched through his entire NBA career.
“It was great,” Ladson said. “The people there – David Robinson, Tim [Duncan], Manu [Ginobili], Boris Diaw. I really missed Boris Diaw. He was good. And [Sean] Elliott, he was good.”
Ladson led two of her children and a grandchild to get jobs at the AT&T Center. Ladson’s oldest daughter, Valerie Brooks, supervises the arena’s ushers. Daughter Cassandra Pearson and 21-year-old granddaughter Emani Pearson work as ticket-takers at the front doors while Ladson greets season ticket holders on the lower level. Both laugh when they talk about Ladson’s seemingly unending energy and joie de vivre.
“She is the face,” she said. “When she’s not here, people are looking for her.”
It’s the steady interaction with people that has Ladson eager to keep returning to work at the AT&T Center. An earlier three-year assignment on the arena’s Terrace Level – often in what she called a “dead-end spot” – was not to her liking.
“I was used to people,” Ladson said. “You didn’t mix with people there. I knew I could do better.”
So she requested a change, and in her seven years on the lower level, Ladson has befriended many regular attendees who say hello with hugs and are disappointed when she’s not there.
Ladson not only works around fans of the team all day, she also brings her own Spurs fandom home. Her front porch is decorated with a cheerful Spurs-themed wreath, and the “Merci Tony” poster from Parker’s jersey retirement ceremony hangs on the wall by her door, crowned with a large metal Spurs logo.
“The house is Spurs’d out,” Ladson’s granddaughter Emani said. “She got a Spurs ring when they won the championship. She has it on a little chain. She wears it all the time. When she goes out, she wears that. That’s her jewelry.”
Before Ladson worked for the Spurs, she and her husband Charles ran a catering company in San Antonio. Charles died in 2000, and Ladson decided to shut down the business; it wouldn’t have been the same without him, she said. Now, she spends her time at the AT&T Center and in her garden at home. She also bowls on a regular basis, having taken up the sport in the 1970s.
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Her Tuesdays are reserved for a standing appointment at Turner Bowling Club in Kirby, where she bowls with a police league. The bowling league raises money for two scholarships awarded annually to first-year college students. She has bowled with the league for more than 20 years, she said, and owns four bowling balls, all 12-pounders. Her high score is 298. Her daughters and granddaughters schedule their shifts to make sure someone can drive her to and from the bowling alley.
“We’re the transportation,” her daughter Cassandra Pearson said. “We’re not going to let her miss anything she wants to do.”
Pearson added that she’s continually amazed by her mother’s irrepressible vitality.
“That’s our rock,” Pearson said. “She is the glue that holds us together. She’s the inspiration that keeps me moving. I’m retired, but I can’t sit because she doesn’t sit. How would that look? She’s 91, and if she can do it, I can keep it moving, too.”
Age is just a number, Ladson said. She doesn’t feel 91, and she wants to keep ushering and meeting people.
“I enjoy what I’m doing,” Ladson said. “The day comes when I don’t, I tell them goodbye, I’m gone.”