The San Antonio Spurs taught me my place.
Not by what they did on the basketball court, impressive though their slick shooting, quick passes, and tight D have been over the years, but by my vocal reaction to watching their championship runs. I yell and groan and take players to task. That’s perfectly acceptable at the games, whether they have been played in the intimate, sight-line-challenged HemisFair Arena or the cavernous Alamodome, or now in the AT&T Center.
Apparently it’s much less so at home, when everyone in the family is jammed on the couch, watching television in close quarters. Every so often I’d get tossed out, like Bob Bass, Cotton Fitzsimmons, Larry Brown, or Pop ejected from a game. So I’d go for a walk, which is when my lessons began.
I learned the first one quickly enough: if I wanted to monitor the ebb and flow in a pre-smart-phone era, I had better not stroll through my leafy neighborhood of Olmos Park. The houses are too big, too separated from one another, too well sealed (to keep the air conditioning inside). I could tell by the flickering lights that folks were watching Los Spurs, but I couldn’t decipher the game’s progress because nary a sound or word escaped outside in this buttoned-down enclave.
Across McCullough Avenue and the railroad tracks to the west, updates were much easier to come by. Working my way through Olmos Park Terrace, Northmoor, and adjacent neighborhoods, weaving along Mandalay, Lovera, Thorain, and Mariposa, running up and down Howard or Belknap Place, the homes are smaller, windows up, and televisions loud. So were the inhabitants; like the light pooling on the front lawn, their voices spilled through the screens, slipped past chain-link, and filtered through oak and crape myrtle, becoming an audible record of the game’s momentum. The cheers, boos, and silence served as my play-by-play.
Occasionally I’d pass others walking through the noise and dimming sky. Had they, too, been shown the door? I stumbled on an answer during the 2005 NBA finals. The Spurs had squared off against the Detroit Pistons, as tight and tense a series as there had been in a decade (the Spurs won in seven). Asked to do something more useful than bemoaning our fate, I headed to the local H-E-B to buy groceries. The store was unnervingly empty, as the streets had been; at game time in San Antonio, you hunker down.
Inside the too-bright store, a small television, set within an endcap devoted to Spurs paraphernalia, had the game on, and as I loaded the cart I made certain to pass it coming and going. By the time I reached the only available checkout line, so had the handful of others who had been cruising the aisles. While the cashier rang up my purchases, I felt compelled to admit that I had been exiled so my family could watch in peace. Several folks behind me started to laugh. “We were, too!” they said.
I found them again at the celebratory river parade on June 18, following the Spurs’ utter dismantling of the Miami Heat, its fifth championship since 1999. After each triumph, the newly crowned NBA champs have piled on to an armada of barges and chugged along the Riverwalk, bathing in their fans’ thrilled adulation. At moments like these the Spurs remind us of the river’s central function, I wrote in Deep in the Heart of San Antonio, as our “communal artery and civic stage.” The place where we come together and act out, releasing the pent-up anxiety stored during the long regular season and compressed during the playoffs, finally to explode in unfettered joy when the first boat swings around the bend.
This year the electricity sparked while I was standing with a sweat-stained throng jammed on the Convent Street bridge. As his craft plowed toward us, Tony Parker sensed our energy and raised his arms in a V. We screamed. I don’t know what I was yelling, but I loved that I could.
Char Miller, a Spurs fan since 1981 when he and his family moved to San Antonio, teaches at Pomona College (where current Spurs coach Gregg Popovich once coached). He is the author of Deep in the Heart of San Antonio: Land and Life in South Texas and On the Edge: Water, Immigration, and Politics in the Southwest, and editor of On the Border: An Environmental History of San Antonio, all with Trinity University Press.
Photo credit: Spurs Facebook page.