From left to right: Former Spurs player Sean Elliott; Methodist Healthcare President and CEO Jaime Wesolowski, Spurs Senior Team Physician Dr. David Schmidt, and Spurs General Manager R.C. Buford Credit: Courtesy / Spurs, Sports & Entertainment

There was good reason the Spurs chose Tuesday to announce the organization’s comprehensive strategic partnership with Methodist Healthcare System: It was on March 14, 2000, that Spurs star Sean Elliott made his return to the basketball court, just seven months after receiving a transplanted kidney donated by his brother, Noel.

The transplant was performed by Dr. Francis Wright at Methodist Transplant Hospital in San Antonio. The superstar surgeon was on hand at the AT&T Center on Tuesday to hear Elliott make the announcement of the team’s partnership with Methodist Healthcare.

Still one of the most recognized Spurs personalities after serving the past 15 years as analyst on locally produced telecasts of Spurs games, Elliott calls March 14 his “second birthday” – the day he became the first pro athlete to return to action after an organ transplant of any kind.

Performing in that March 14, 2000, game at AT&T Center against the Atlanta Hawks validated Elliott’s triumph over a rare kidney disorder – segmented focal glomerulosclerosis – with which he was diagnosed in 1993. He had played with the condition for seven seasons. Then, in the truncated 1998-99 season, he averaged nearly 34 minutes per game during the playoff run that produced his Memorial Day Miracle 3-point shot and the team’s first NBA championship, belying the extent to which the disease had ravaged his health.

“I think the fact that he played for seven years with this disease; and it got to the severity that it did; and that he received a transplant; and that he survived all of that; and that he worked himself back into playing in the NBA was nothing short of a miracle,” said Dr. David Schmidt, who has been a Spurs team physician for 24 years. Schmidt is the founder of the Sports Medicine Association of San Antonio (SMASA) and now serves as the Spurs’ senior team physician.

Elliott’s take on the official partnership between Spurs Sports and Entertainment (SS&E) and Methodist Healthcare is simple: “It’s about time.”

Methodist Healthcare System is designated as the official healthcare provider for all SS&E sports franchises – the Austin Spurs (NBA D-League), San Antonio FC (USL), San Antonio Rampage (AHL), and San Antonio Stars (WNBA). Its team of experts, nutritionists, physicians, and its first-class facilities will be available to help address injury prevention, physical rehabilitation, and provide the best care for players, coaches, and staff.

“Methodist Healthcare System has been a leader in Central and South Texas and this community for years,” said R.C. Buford, Spurs general manager and president of sports franchises for SS&E. “This gives us an opportunity to participate with Methodist as we go into the community and promote healthy lifestyles, as we provide the best health and wellness care that we can for our players among all of our sports teams, and also to continue a partnership we’ve had with Dr. Schmidt and his group at SMASA for 20-plus years. It’s very seldom in the professional sports industry that you get to build this type of trusting relationship. To add Methodist to the partnership – we’re excited to be just another component in this growing relationship.

“The resources that Methodist can bring to all of SS&E, from not only health care but research and development across many platforms, is exciting for all of us.”

Schmidt called Methodist Healthcare’s partnership with SS&E an important step for the organization and his group of sports medicine specialists.

“Our most important goal at SMASA is player health,” Schmidt said, “and I think the vast resources that Methodist brings … is going to allow us to elevate the care for all of the players in SS&E and all of the athletes in Central and South Texas.”

Methodist’s participation with SMASA, Schmidt said, will carry into the community.

“SMASA’s mission is to be the preeminent provider of medical and surgical care for all of the athletes and active individuals, so teaming [up] with Methodist will help us accomplish this mission [of] offering wellness and prevention programs to athletes all over our community. We’re really excited about that, probably more than anything, to penetrate our community, to get to young people early, promote active lifestyles, and really make a change in the future.”

Methodist Healthcare President and CEO Jaime Wesolowski acknowledged a long association with the Spurs that he believes will extend into the community.

“Our collaboration is like none other in our past,” Wesolowski said, “as it’s structured to not only benefit the teams, but also opens the door for this partnership to achieve a lasting legacy of health by providing education and programs that will encourage active lifestyles throughout our community.”

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Mike Monroe

Mike Monroe is a longtime, award-winning NBA and Spurs reporter who recently retired from the Express-News and is now contributing to the Rivard Report.