SAN ANTONIO - I attended my first Spurs game in January of 1975. I was 10. It was before the roof was raised at the old Hemisfair Arena and the Spurs played with a red, white, and blue ball. For the past 32 years I have been a fan, a friend, a critic and most importantly an constant observer of my childhood franchise.
There has been much debate over who is jersey retirement worthy, who should be honored, and who shouldn't be. I decided to rank the Top 20 Spurs of all time. I admit, my rankings are statistically driven, but also consider longevity, championships, all star appearances and overall contributions to the team.
For instance, Bruce Bowen may have his jersey retired, but he was nowhere close to the player that Larry Kenon or Mike Mitchell were. Bruce is jersey worthy because he was on title teams, was important to that era, and because he is close to the decision makers who decide such things. However, you won't find him ahead of K or Mitch on my list.
I consulted with Pat Frost, who I believe is unsurpassed in knowledge of Spurs history (I consider myself a close second). I will try to justify each pick and why one Spur may rank higher than another, but again, this is just one man's list. I'd like to hear yours.
#4 Manu Ginobili 6'6" Shooting Guard
Manu is one of my top 3 favorite Spurs of all time. He is an AUTOMATIC hall of famer. It amazes me how, even in basketball circles, people do not realize the criteria for a Hall of Fame ballot. In Manu's case, he would be in the hall of fame even if he would have NEVER played a minute in the NBA. That is how good his international resume' is. I believe he could be in the Hall of Fame in three different categories before it's all said and done. International player, NBA player and Coach. Manu is simply the greatest international player who ever lived.
I know Dirk has had a better NBA career, but that doesn't count. Manu's accomplishments by winning a Gold Medal for Argentina, a Euro league title, MVP's and world championship performances rank him as the top fiba player of all time. His NBA career is also outstanding. He was the unquestioned heart and soul of the Spurs Championship dynasty and arguably could have been the MVP of the 2005 finals. One vote made the difference between Ginobili and Tim Duncan.
He is the Spurs all time leader in 3 point field goals and in the top 5 or 6 in most every other statistical category. Most impressive is the fact that he has continued to play at the age of 35 despite the incredible physical toll his body has taken from his relentless style.
Manu is the ultimate warrior, he has the best motor that I have ever seen in basketball and is highly underrated on a national level.
#5 Tony Parker 6'2" Point Guard
Let me say this perfectly clear. Tony Parker's stats put him squarely at #4 on this list, not 5th. When making my initial list, I had Parker at 5 and Ginobili at 4. After further review of the numbers, it's clear that Tony has had a better statistical career and because of age will surpass Manu in all statistical categories. He will end up with a Finals MVP, more all star appearances, and more All-NBA honors.
But this list is not ALL about numbers. Parker is brilliant and his career is just starting to peak. However, at the time of this writing, I believe that Manu has had more of a TEAM impact on the three championships that the Spurs won with both players and has some intangibles that can't be explained in the numbers.
I do believe Parker's stats are not appreciated enough. He is 4th in almost every major team category and FIRST as the Spurs all-time assist leader. Given his age it is not out of the question the he could suprass David Robinson on the scoring list at over 20 thousand points. Parker is an automatic retired jersey and possible NBA hall of famer depending on how his career goes from here.
I do believe that his actions off the court take away from some of the accomplishments on it, including his night club incident with his eye, his celebrity marriage and divorce, and other things that have nothing to do with basketball. Is that fair? maybe not.
But this is MY list of greatest Spurs and when establishing the list, I am admitting that Parker is deserving of the fourth spot, It's just that there is no way I can, in my right mind, rank him ahead of Manu. Fair or not.
#6 James Silas 6'1" Point Guard
James Silas, aka “Captain Late," was the first Spur to have his jersey retired and would be higher on this list had injuries not derailed his NBA career.
“Snake” was perhaps one of the top three players in the entire ABA, and NBA fans never got to see the real Silas because of knee injuries. In the early Spur years, he was the star of the team, even more so than George Gervin. He is in the top ten in nearly every single Spur category, and his late game heroics add to his legend. He was famous for the buzzer beater. He was the Spurs unquestioned leader and captain.
Silas was ABA all-rookie in 1973 and his career numbers were surging. His scoring average went from 13 to 15 to 19 points per game his first three years as a pro, and then peaked at nearly 24 points per game in the final year of the ABA. He was an ABA all star and first team all ABA. George Gervin was second team. But that is where their careers took different roads.
Silas suffered a knee injury and only played 22 games the following year after the merger. After two years at 9 points and 3 points per game, he returned to have very respectable numbers; three straight seasons at over 16 points per game.
Silas is a true pioneer of the franchise and one of the all time greats in the ABA.
#7 Larry Kenon 6'9" Forward
Let me say this loud and clear: Larry Kenon is the most underrated and under appreciated Spur in team history. Larry Kenon deserves to have his jersey retired and if that never happens, let's at least let Spurs fans realize just how great he was.
Unlike many above him on this list, K is nowhere to be found in either games played or minutes played. That makes his stats even that more impressive. He is ninth on the all time scoring list, tenth on the all time steals list, fourth in total rebounds, fourth in defensive rebounds, fourth in offensive rebounds, and eighth in field goals made. Only Duncan, Robinson and Gervin lead him in the rebound category.
Get this, only Gervin and Robinson averaged more points per game. He averaged 21 a game during his career with the Spurs and despite playing here only five seasons, he is also fifth in steals per game and set an NBA record with 11 in a single game.
He was a five time All-Star (3 ABA, 2 NBA) and in his two NBA All-Star seasons with the Spurs averaged a double-double with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
He did all that in only five seasons with the Spurs.
Some may suggest that he did not play here long enough to be considered an all time franchise great. I say the opposite. If you are as high as he is on the scoring and rebounding list and in the top ten in steals, it shows just how amazing he was in such a short period of time. Five of the six guys ahead of him on my list are in the Hall of Fame, will be, or are in the conversation.
I'm not saying K should be in the Hall of Fame, but he should be in San Antonio's and the Spurs.
#8 Sean Elliott 6’7” Forward
What can you say about one of the biggest fan favorites in team history? Sean's Memorial Day Miracle is arguably the best single moment in team history. He was a two-time all-star and with David Robinson, helped the Spurs to the biggest turn-a-round in NBA history. He was a starter on the ‘99 title team. He is in the top ten in almost every Spurs offensive category and surprisingly is in the top ten in two key rebound categories, defensive rebounds and total rebounds. Sean is also among the team’s leaders in three-point shooting and was the Scottie Pippen to David Robinson on those very good early 90's teams that were constantly in the playoffs.
Sean’s not an NBA hall-of-famer, but he is San Antonio royalty and eighth may even be a little low when you take into account everything he has meant to San Antonio on and off the court. His return after having a kidney transplant is one of the most courageous moments in sports history.
#9 Mike Mitchell 6'7" Small Forward
There were two very big revelations for me while researching this list. I will say it simply. For Mike Mitchell and Larry Kenon NOT to have their jersey's retired is a travesty, a sham and a mockery. It's a traveshamockery.
Mitch is everywhere in the team's history book. He is fifth in field goals, seventh in scoring and was a tremendous scoring machine for his short time in San Antonio. For example, he scored more points in his six and a half seasons here than Sean Elliott. He was a consistent 20-points a game scorer, and was one of the original big three with Gervin and Gilmore on a Western Conference Finalist. He is sixth all time in points per game and is in the top ten in minutes played despite playing here only six and a half years.
Mitch was also an NBA All-Star albeit with Cleveland before he came to the Spurs, but his best years were in San Antonio.
A silky smooth, high arching shooter, Spurs fans must remember the late great Mitch for his contributions to the team and the city. He overcame his own substance abuse issues to be a positive role model and mentor for youth.
Long Live Mitch.
#10 Avery Johnson 5’11” Guard
The little general had to be in the top ten. He was the captain of the Spurs first championship team and retired as their all time assist leader.
Many in San Antonio argued that he should not have had his jersey retired. It was a no-brainer. Johnny Moore's jersey was retired and A.J. surpassed everything Jr. did as a point guard, including breaking his assist record. He had to have it retired based on the criteria they set when they did it for Moore.
Avery is in the franchise top ten in games, minutes, assists, points, field goals and steals. He is second in assists and assists per game.
He was also a fiery leader, a captain and a champion.
Enough said. Top ten worthy for sure.
#11 Artis Gilmore 7’2” Center
There is no doubt that the A-Train's best days were in Kentucky and Chicago before he came to the Spurs. However, he was still a two time All-Star in Silver and Black and that is in the same class with Sean Elliott, Manu and Tony. Gilmore ranks in nine major categories in shooting percentage, rebounds, blocks, and free throws.
Gilmore gave the Spurs a true inside force and was on that Western Conference Finals team in 1983.
One of the strongest men in the history of the game, Gilmore is also a hall of famer which counts major points in my book.
He will forever be overshadowed by Tim and David, but is the third best big man in Spurs history.
#12 Johnny Moore 6’1” Guard
Jr. was fun to watch. Johnny Moore was the spark plug to the engine on the second best era in Spurs History. The early 80's Spurs were loaded with George Gervin, Mike Mitchell and Artis Gilmore. A team that had championship potential, but had to go against Magic's Lakers teams of that era.
Moore is near the top of every assist and steal category in Spurs history. The quick point guard from Texas led the league in assists in 1982 and in 1983 was second in assists and third in steals.
His courage to overcome desert fever was inspirational, as was his return to the team in 1990.
#13 Bruce Bowen 6'7" Forward
Bruce has his #12 retired in the AT&T Center rafters and that is a tribute to his contributions during a dynasty.
So why is he so low on my list?
Nothing against Bruce, but he was a specialist. Let me ask this simple question. Would Tim Duncan have won championships without Bruce Bowen on the roster? The answer is yes. The Spurs would have filled that defensive specialist void with a capable choice.
Bowen's contributions were to a winning team. Important contributions. Yet his only career top ten stats are in games and minutes and three-point percentage. Bowen is in the top ten in both games and minutes played, yet he is nowhere to be found in the major stat categories. He does not show up in points, rebounds, assists or steals.
He was at best the fourth best player on the team of his era. He deserves great credit for his durability and his willingness to defend. He also developed into a good three-point shooter. But there are five guys in my mind above him who have not had their jerseys retired yet.
#14 Dennis Rodman 6’6” Forward
I know. It pains me to put Rodman on this list, but his numbers are too good to ignore.
I truly believe that had he not been on the 94-95 team, they may have won the championship. He was such a huge distraction, but at the same time what he did on the court was impressive.
Rodman leads the franchise in every comparable rebound statistic, including rebounds per game average with an unbelievable 17 per game. He is also a Hall-Of-Famer, and that has to count for something. He was All-NBA with the Spurs and set the franchise record with 32 rebounds in a single game. In fact, Rodman has the top ten rebounding nights in Spurs history with ten games of 25 rebounds or more.
Dennis was one strange bird. One of the happiest days of my reporting career came when he joined the Bulls. I knew I would no longer get any surprise calls that he had been in a motorcycle wreck or orders to go on a stakeout to see if we could get video of Madonna in San Antonio.
#15 Alvin Robertson 6'3" Guard
Admittedly, this spot is way to low for Alvin based on stats. He dropped on my list because of his long criminal history.
His accomplishments speak for themselves. He was the first ever winner of the NBA's most improved player award. He represented the Spurs in four All Star games. Only Robinson, Gervin and Duncan have more All-Star appearances. He was named to the all-defensive team numerous times and was the defensive player of the year in 1986.
But those were the dark days of the franchise, and although he was a great individual player, those teams were the worst in franchise history.
Robertson was an outstanding talent, a gold medal winner on the 1984 Olympic team and is the only player in NBA History to record a quadruple double with steals being the final category instead of blocks.
He would have been much higher on the list had he not gone down the road of domestic violence on numerous occasions.
Favorite Memory: The 1987 lottery. His teams were so bad, the Spurs got David Robinson in the draft.
#16 Mark Olberding 6'8" Forward
One of my favorite enforcers in NBA history. Olberding was an original member of the “Bruise Brothers” and played seven seasons with the Spurs.
All you have to do to recognize that he was a physical player was look at the stats. He is among the Spurs all time career leaders in free throws and free throw attempts, meaning he was tough and went strong to the rack. He also ranks in the franchise top 10 in both defensive rebounds and total rebounds.
The stat I like the most, despite playing in significantly less games, he is fourth in team history in personal fouls; behind only Robinson, Gervin and Duncan.
He was the perfect power forward to play with Ice. Gervin weighed only 180 pounds, and many teams thought the way to slow down his scoring was to beat him up. Enter the Dinger who did not let that happen.
You also have to love a guy that came to the Pros as a 19 year old kid. Olberding, however, was a grown man and was one of the strongest players in the league.
Favorite Memory: The Bruise Brothers Poster. Had it in my room. Here it is...
#17 Mike Gale 6’4” Guard
You can't have a top 20 Spurs list without the “Sugar Man.” Mike Gale was the sweet shooting guard from Overbrook High School in Philadelphia; the same school that produced Wilt Chamberlain.
Gale bridged the Spurs move from the ABA to the NBA and although he played behind George Gervin and James Silas, he was in many ways a star in his own right. Despite playing only five seasons with the Spurs, he is in the top ten in both all-time steals and assists and is fourth all time in steals per game.
He also was a cool cat with his big afro and puka shells.
Favorite Memory: Gale appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in the background of an Elvin Hayes dunk. It was odd because Gale was wearing a Bullets road jersey turned inside out. As the story goes, his uniform was either stolen or baggage was lost by the airline. The Bullets gave him a dark road uniform to wear inside out. It's true. Here's the photo…
#18 Robert Horry 6-10 Forward
With apologies to Donnie Freeman, who I seriously considered in this spot. Freeman is 4th all time in Spurs history, averaging over 20 points per game in his career, but few Spur fans remember him.
So why Big Shot Rob? Bottom line he is responsible for at least one Spurs championship and can claim responsibility for two.
Horry's shot to beat the Pistons in Game 5 of the 2005 Finals in Detroit is arguably the biggest shot in team history. If he misses, the Spurs may or may not have won that title.
Horry can also stake his claim to the ‘07 title. The Suns had just stolen back home court and tied the series with the Spurs at 2-2 when Horry famously hip-checked Steve Nash into the scorer's table. Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw left the bench area and were suspended for game 5 by the NBA. Without their biggest star the Suns lost a close one at home in game 5, and after losing in San Antonio, never got their chance at home court in game 7.
Did the wily veteran know what he was doing?
Horry is nowhere on any major statistical category in team history, but one shot for the O'Brien trophy, and another in a round-a-bout way was good enough for me to put him on the list.
Side Note: You can argue Horry is responsible for the 2003 title as well, even though he played for the Lakers. He barely rimmed out a 3 that would have won game 5 in San Antonio for L.A. It’s at the end of this video…
Who knows what happens if he had made that.
#19 Rich Jones---6'6" Forward
I can hear young Spurs fans now, "Rich Who?"
Richard Wesley "House" Jones was another two-time all star in the early years. He actually scored over 20 points a game with the Dallas Chaps before the team moved to San Antonio. Despite his short tenure with the team, he is in the top ten in every rebounding category and in the top ten in field goal attempts.
Jones won an ABA Championship with the Nets in 1976.
Favorite Memory: The Fight. In Game 4 of the 1976 ABA playoffs, Jones, who had been traded to the Nets, got into a nasty, bench clearing brawl. Legend has it that he bloodied four different Spurs before order was restored. Not sure if this was the inspiration for the fighting Jackie Moon in Semi-Pro.
#20 Swen Nater---6'11" Center
The Big Dutchman is one of the few Spurs in team history with a major award. He was the ABA Rookie of the Year in 1974. He was not a Spur long, playing for only two seasons, but was an All-Star in both and was All-ABA in both. He is 5th All-Time in field goal percentage and his 15.2 rebounds per game is second only to Dennis Rodman in Spurs history.
Favorite Memory: They stopped a game in 1975 because he bent the rim with a powerful dunk. (Way before they had break-a-way rims.)
Coming tomorrow #19