I’ve had the thrill of witnessing some of the San Antonio Spurs’ greatest on-court moments, notably Sean Elliott’s Memorial Day Miracle three-pointer in the 1999 Western Conference Finals against Portland. That winning shot opened the door to the team’s first NBA Championship win against the Knicks.
Four more championships would follow in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014.
There have been equally decisive off-court moments: the No. 1 lottery pick in 1987 brought David Robinson here in 1989. A second No. 1 pick in 1997 brought Tim Duncan. In between, there was the decision to make Gregg Popovich the head coach in 1996. Pop would go on to become the winningest coach in regular-season NBA history.
Tuesday added yet another great off-court moment to my list: Spurs owner Peter J. Holt’s open letter to the people of San Antonio that quells any doubts about the Spurs’ commitment to their hometown.
This was no press release. This was a distinctly personal and authentic letter that traced Holt’s loyalty to the city and the Spurs from his pre-teen years through the building of a dynasty that has given one of the NBA’s smallest markets five championship trophies and countless memories made by some of the sport’s most admirable players.
Holt wrote from the heart.
Dear San Antonio, I love you. I love this city. A big city with a casual small-town feel and a GREAT basketball team. I want to reassure you that the Spurs are in San Antonio to stay.
I love the charreadas, the big green trees and watching my four children play at the splash pad at Yanaguana. I love eating the best chicken in the world at Pollos Asados Los Nortenos on Rigsby near my office, or sharing breakfast tacos with friends (yes, WE do have the best tacos).
You can read the entire letter here. Puro San Antonio, Peter J.
Holt’s homage to his hometown should settle all questions raised at last week’s meeting of the Bexar County Commissioners Court when Spurs executive Bobby Perez first sought permission to tweak the team’s contract with the county to allow the team to host four games rather than two in other non-NBA cities and venues, including a game in Mexico City, another at the Alamodome, and two others likely in Austin.
Perez’s request was clearly stated as a two-year pilot program, an opportunity to expand the Spurs’ fan base regionally and south of the border. As a marketing initiative, it should have come as no surprise to elected officials, a number of whom have participated in talks to attract matches to the Alamodome between Liga MX professional soccer teams.
Commissioner Tommy Calvert Jr., whose Eastside district includes the AT&T Arena, suggested at the meeting that the Spurs were “testing the waters in Austin” following the recent investment in the franchise by Austin billionaire Michael Dell and a West Coast hedge fund, Sixth Street.
Commissioner Justin Rodriguez proposed a one-year exception to the current contract, which won the support of Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores. Calvert was joined by Commissioner Marialyn Barnard in opposing the proposal.
A divided Commissioners Court does not inspire public confidence. A clearly unhappy Wolff suggested that the Spurs ownership appear before any final vote on the matter in two weeks to express their commitment to San Antonio.
Holt’s letter quickly followed.
His written commitment should resolve any remaining doubts, on the Commissioners Court and in the court of public opinion.
Meanwhile, it’s worth remembering that Bexar County taxpayers (actually, mostly visitors to our city) have invested heavily in the AT&T Center, built for $175 million in public funds and $28.5 million in Spurs funding, and opened in 2002 as the SBC Center. An additional $101.5 million was invested by the county in upgrades in 2015.
The Spurs’ contract with Bexar County calls for the team to play in the AT&T Center through 2032. Perhaps then there will be calls for a new arena, but a publicly funded new basketball arena now is a non-starter, especially as the city and county continue to struggle in the post-pandemic economy.
The Spurs haven’t asked for a new arena, and no one is offering them one. They have a good home now, in San Antonio at the AT&T Center.
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