It was a night to remember for the 68,323 fans who gathered Friday to watch the San Antonio Spurs return to the Alamodome, the team’s second home in the franchise’s 50-year history.
As Spurs legends and memories filled the stadium, it didn’t really matter that the young team lost to the Golden State Warriors, last year’s champions, 144-113. What mattered was the fans showed up for their team and made history in doing so, breaking the NBA’s single-game attendance record.
Before the start of the game, courtside press tables reverberated with the cheers of the thousands of fans as the house lights in the Alamodome dimmed. Spurs forward Keldon Johnson welcomed the throngs and led them in chanting, “Go Spurs Go.”
The atmosphere turned electric as fans waved their phone flashlights up and down as the team’s lineups were introduced.
“The starting lineup was one of the coolest moments I have experienced, ever,” Spurs forward Doug McDermott said. “Tonight was everything and more. It was such a good atmosphere. The Spurs fans showed out tonight; it was great to see everyone come out to support us.”
Lights rose to reveal a Fiesta-colored oasis for the Spurs faithful. Forward Jeremy Sochan rocked the Fiesta colors with flowers painted on his hair.
“We just did some flowers, and Fiesta colors as well,” Sochan said. “I just looked at a few ideas and went to my stylist. I don’t trust myself; this is too much for me.”
A video celebrated current Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr’s time with the black and silver. He played for the Spurs on two different occasions. In his first stint, from 1999-2001, he helped win the franchise’s title in 1999 against the New York Knicks on the road. During his second tour, the team won the title again in 2003, beating the New Jersey Nets.
“When I think of the dome, there’s a lot of great memories,” Kerr said. “So many great friendships, championship teams winning the title in ‘99 and celebrating back here in the dome; a lot of great stuff.”
After the team entered the stadium, a video tribute to the Alamodome played on the gigantic screens in the stadium. The crowd, including former Spurs greats David Robinson and Vinny Del Negro, laughed when footage showed the water cannon debacle on opening night in 1993.
“This place is legendary and has such a story,” former Spur Avery Johnson said. “I’m so excited to be back here. I haven’t been here in 20 years, but I can remember every lay up, every shot I made and missed.”
A video payed homage to Johnson’s game-winning shot against the Knicks in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, making the score 78-77 and sealing the franchise’s first NBA title. Johnson ran out on the court at the end of the first quarter and fans roared their approval.
“I have lots of good memories here, especially in ’99 after our river parade; we celebrated with 45,000 fans,” Johnson said. “Now, we are here with even more fans.”
Fans, the Spurs, and coaches donned jerseys in Fiesta-colors. The half court showcased a special logo, a nod to the 1996 All-Star Game that was played here.
Among the Spurs faithful at the game, some who waited in lines that wrapped the arena as early as three hours before tip-off, was Humberto De Leon and his wife.
The couple, who drove from Uvalde to take part in history, had VIP credentials that allowed them to enjoy a bar while standing throughout the entire game. They weren’t the only ones — hundreds of fans packed the standing tickets section.
“I didn’t mind the drive,” DeLeon said. “I had to be a part of history and I’m going to stand the whole game.”
Other fans walked the concourse and admired retro-style photos of the team’s tenure in the Alamodome. The requisite Twin Towers photo of David Robinson and Tim Duncan hoisting the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy flanked the support beams.
Lines for the locker room tour flanked the northeast corners of the floor level.
“It was really cool to see because I came here when I was a kid. I never got to see the locker room,” Kat Narvaiz said. “So returning 25 years later, with my whole family and getting to bring my daughter, it’s been good and brought back a lot of memories. My favorite part was seeing David Robinson and the parachute drop.”
Back on the court, the Spurs stayed within 10 points of the Warriors until the returning NBA champs opened it up in the third period.
“As a fan, it is rather nostalgic for me because the very first Spurs game I attended was back in 1975 against the Spirit of St. Louis,” said Eric Tijerina, who worked as an intern in Game Operations in the Alamodome from 1992-1993. “It’s been very interesting watching the progression and ascension of the franchise. They have the all-time best NBA franchise winning percentage and the 1999 championship was all that the team needed to become elite.”
At the end of the third quarter, Robinson announced the record-breaking attendance. Former guard Tony Parker sat courtside across from the Spurs bench. His onetime teammate, Manu Ginobili, watched from a suite high above.
“I obviously hate to lose, and my teammates hate to lose, but with the turnout tonight, how can you be mad?” Johnson said after the loss. “The Spurs fan base surpassed anything we could ever imagine. That made tonight special, plus it’s my mother’s birthday.”
Along with his parents, Johnson’s childhood coach joined the crowd.
“You know, 68,000, is an atmosphere that surpasses all,” Johnson said. “It don’t matter if you’re down 20. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I feel speechless trying to talk about it.