After nearly three months without professional basketball games due to the coronavirus pandemic, San Antonio Spurs fans are ready to see their team return to the court.
Queend Mendez, 35, has been missing the Spurs. She covered her walls in Spurs memorabilia, showing off towels, posters, jerseys, and hats with a video tour of her home. She’s been rewatching old games on DVD during the hiatus, she said. She has DVDs of each season from 2004 to 2014 but is ready to see the players back in action.
“I love my Spurs and I represent them on- or off-season, 24/7, 365 days a year,” she said in a Facebook message.
Spurs players returned to the gym Monday, general manager Brian Wright said during a call with reporters that day. They are restricted by a few rules – only two players in the gym at a time, and a 1:1 player-to-coach ratio. Coaches must also stay a certain amount of distance away from players and wear personal protective equipment. He didn’t elaborate on how far away coaches must stay from players or what equipment they would be wearing.
Although he hopes the team will continue to perform well, noting that the Spurs beat the Dallas Mavericks in their last game before the league shut down, he reminded reporters that the players haven’t been practicing as a team for nearly three months.
“There is going to be a focus on making sure that we’re keeping our guys healthy and how we best do that,” Wright said. “So we want to go play well, we want to go compete, we want to finish the season strong, but we’ve also got to keep in mind the health and safety of our players and everybody as we return.”
In order to minimize coronavirus transmission, the rest of the NBA season will feature 22 teams, including the Spurs, playing eight regular-season games in Orlando. The playoffs, which are scheduled to end by Oct. 12, will also take place in Orlando. No fans will be allowed to attend the games in person.
David Borrego has been a Spurs fan since he was 5 years old. The 30-year-old said he watches every Spurs game, or at least the highlights when he misses it live. Though the Spurs are not currently in a playoff position, Borrego is hopeful San Antonio will have a shot at the title.
“I think we’re going to contend, and I think [Coach Gregg Popovich] is going to have the guys ready to compete,” he said. “But with [LaMarcus] Aldridge not being available, it’s going to be tough. But … you can never be too sure, and who knows what the other teams will be looking like?”
The Spurs announced Monday that Aldridge would miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Michael Mayfield is much more skeptical of the Spurs’ chances. The 65-year-old has been a fan since 1974, when the Spurs first came to San Antonio. He weathered many years without a championship title, he said, and making it to the Finals would be difficult without Aldridge playing.
“It’s going to be tough to even get into the playoffs,” he said.
But even though the Spurs may miss the playoffs for the first time in 22 years, Mayfield said he wouldn’t be disappointed.
“You can’t expect to win a championship every year,” he said. “I think Spurs fans, especially young Spurs fans, are just spoiled. They think if the Spurs aren’t at least close to being able to get a championship, it’s a horrible thing. But it’s a process. It happens. There’s nothing you can do about it. … Be ready for some times when they’re not going to be winning championships.”
Championship contenders or not, the resumption of the NBA season can provide a morale boost for the teams’ communities, Mayfield and Borrego both said. Wright agreed.
“We’ve seen it before at different times in this country,” Wright said. “Obviously, there are much more important things going on in the world that we’ve got to get figured out that aren’t NBA basketball. But NBA basketball can play a small part in … giving people something to be excited and happy about.”
Even though the Spurs will play in Florida, the viewing experience won’t be diminished for Mendez, she said.
“I don’t attend games due to the fact that I have medical issues that will prevent me from going to a game, so I’m a regular viewer on TV,” Mendez said in a Facebook message. “I watch all the games all the time.”
She thinks they might be able to make it to the playoffs, with a little determination.
“Don’t give up, stay loyal, push hard,” she said. “As a fan, I love my Spurs.”
The NBA returns on July 31.