We can be jealous of the San Antonio Spurs. But we can’t hate them.
Why? Because, well, they’re us.
In the tradition of conquering rotten roots, the Spurs’ founding father was none other than a wacky ABA franchise known as the Dallas Chaparrals. That’s right, the only reason the Spurs and their five NBA championships are San Antonio's treasure is because long ago the Chaps were discarded as Dallas’ trash.
The Mavs beat San Antonio on their way to their first NBA Finals in 2006 and got their title in 2011, while the Spurs survived the Mavs in April en route to their most recent championship.
It’s hard to not be disgusted by Tim Duncan’s whining and Gregg Popovich’s smugness, but there are undeniable similarities in present and past that go deeper than shallow starlets (Eva Longoria and Jessica Simpson), tall towers (Tower of the Americas and Reunion), overpriced amusement parks (Sea World and Six Flags) and city-side waterscapes (Riverwalk and — coming soon in 2037! — the Trinity River Project). The Cowboys even hold training camp in San Antonio every now and then, and the Rangers played a couple exhibition games in The Alamodome last Spring.
But if these days the Spurs and San Antonio are sorta like us, back in 1967 they were us.
Or were we them?
When a group of wacky businessmen decided the NBA needed a ribald rival complete with 3-point shots and red, white and blue basketballs, the bizarro ABA was hatched. Accordingly, Dallas, one of the league's original 11 teams, was constructed upon hilariously unstable foundations.
Owned by future Dallas Mayor Bob Folsom, the team arrived at a nickname by — tada! — simply arriving. Seems the first board members’ meeting took place at the old Dallas Sheraton Hotel in, of course, The Chaparral Room. The Chaps' roster was assembled just as haphazardly. The team's first general manager, former SMU star Max Williams, compiled a list of draft prospects for co-owner Roland Seth. But instead of alphabetical order as it was intended, Seth misconstrued the list to be in order of preference, thereby producing the Chaparrals' first draft of Matt Aitch, Jim Burns, Gary Gray, Pat Riley (yes, that one) and Jim Thompson.
Oh yeah, and how about a coach? In '72 Tom Nissalke beat out a candidate named Dick Motta (yes, that one) by offering to squeeze in his interview at the Fairmont Hotel before a performance of a hot duo called Sonny and Cher (yes, that one). Somehow, led by inaugural player-coach Cliff Hagan, Cincy Powell and Maurice McHartley (who played with a toothpick in his mouth), the surprising Chaparrals went 46-32 in their inaugural season and earned the first and only playoff series victory of their six-year life.
With the Mavericks still just a motivated molecule in Don Carter’s DNA, the Chaps were the coolest — re: only — game in town. And for some of us 8-year-olds, Heaven was sitting on wooden bleachers, munching 10-cent popcorn and keeping up with the point total of Laverne Tart and his red Chuck Taylor high-tops via hand-operated scoreboard placards. The Chaparrals flew Braniff to road games and played home games at SMU's Moody Coliseum and the Dallas Convention Center, charging a whopping $4 general admission for colorful, often-comical performances right out of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.
Despite the growing pains, marketing gimmicks and extremely creative accounting that made $15,000 player salaries profitable, the ABA gained traction. While the stuffy NBA was Red Auerbach, the snazzy ABA was Red, White and Blue.
With players like Ron Boone, Steve Jones and Goo Kennedy sporting huge Afros, knee-high tube socks and gaudy jewelry, the Chaparrals and their runnin' Roadrunner logo played against future NBA superstars Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore and Moses Malone. You can have LeBron James; Give me Dr. J with his flying 'fro and flamboyant pregame dunks.
But suddenly a football team known as the Dallas Cowboys started winning Super Bowls, and basketball in Dallas was reduced to a JV appetizer. The Chaps played their final game — a 122-120 victory over the Carolina Cougars in front of a paid group of 134 including yours truly — on March 26, 1973.
Duncan was still minus 3 years old.
But four hours south, San Antonio businessmen Angelo Drossos and Red McCombs were already preparing Timmy’s throne. Searching for a way to entertain a city that lacked a major college or any pro sports, they rented the Chaparrals for $1 — no kidding — during the '73-74 season and then purchased the franchise from Folsom for a cool $725,000.
While Dallas barely blinked at its loss, the Spurs had Willie Nelson (yep, that one) sing their first national anthem at HemisFair Arena, debuted basketball's first dance team — The Spurettes — and commenced an evolution from chumps to champs by paying $300,000 to the Virginia Squires in '74 for a kid named George Gervin. Two years later the NBA merged with the ABA, and the Spurs started upgrading coaches from Doug Moe to Larry Brown (yep, that one) to Popovich, and players from Billy Paultz to James Silas to David Robinson. By the time the Mavericks were born, seven years after the Chaps' departure, the sanctimonious Spurs had a tough time remembering, much less appreciating, their heritage up I-35.
A rivalry, fueled by address and ancestry, was born.
It’ll be the same if the Rangers — born out of the Senators — ever play the Washington Nationals in the World Series.
So hate the Spurs if you want. Or, be greedy and take pride in their championships.
It all started, after all, right here.
A native Texan who was born in Duncanville and graduated from UT-Arlington, Richie Whitt has been a mainstay in the Metroplex media since 1986. He’s held prominent roles on all media platforms including newspaper (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Observer), radio (105.3 The Fan) and TV (co-host on TXA 21 and numerous guest appearances, including NBC 5). He currently lives in McKinney with his wife, Sybil, and two very spoiled dogs.