Hanging from the rafters in San Antonio’s AT&T Center are seven retired numbers.
13: James Silas 1973-81
44: George Gervin 1974-85
00: Johnny Moore 1980-90
50: David Robinson 1989-03
32: Sean Elliott 1989-01
6: Avery Johnson 1991-01
12: Bruce Bowen, 2001-09
An interesting list. Very interesting from a Thunder perspective, since Sam Presti cultivated many of his operating principles from San Antonio. Not all. But many.
Is the Spurs’ list of retired numbers any guide to what we can expect when the Thunder gets in the business of retiring numbers?
The San Antonio list will expand soon, of course. Tim Duncan’s 21, Tony Parker’s 9, Manu Ginobili’s 20. All will be hanging from the rafters sooner or later, depending on when the Spurs’ trio of stars decides to retire. The only question is whether the Spurs want to honor all three at once or separately.
The current Spur honors club includes two superstars (Gervin and Robinson) and five long-time contributors to the San Antonio success.
Silas goes back to ABA days, even played a year with the Dallas Chaparrals, the club that moved to San Antonio in 1973. Silas made two ABA all-star teams. He was a 6-foot-1 point guard from Stephen F. Austin who averaged 19.6 points a game in seven San Antonio seasons.
Moore was a 6-foot-1 point guard from the University of Texas who started for the Spurs for much of the 1980s; he was waived by San Antonio in November 1987, then re-signed in November 1989.
Elliott was a wingman from the University of Arizona who played 12 Spur seasons and made 712 San Antonio starts. He was a two-time all-star (1993, 1996), averaged 14.4 points a game for San Antone and started on its 1999 NBA title team.
Johnson was a 5-foot-10 point guard from Southern University (he also played at Cameron in Lawton) who signed with the Spurs as a free agent in January 1991 and was waived that December. He returned to the Spurs as a free agent in November 1992 and started 49 games that year. But in the offseason, Johnson signed with Golden State and made 70 starts in 1993-94. In July 1994, Johnson returned to San Antonio, signing as a free agent, and this time he stuck. Johnson made 465 starts over the next seven seasons. He was the point guard on San Antonio’s 1999 title team.
Bowen signed with the Spurs as a free agent in July 2001, after six years of trying to stick in the NBA. He signed various small contracts with the Heat, the Celtics and the Sixers. Philadelphia traded him to Chicago, which waived him. But Bowen found a home in San Antonio, becoming the defensive stopper on three Spur title teams – 2003, 2005, 2007. Bowen made 560 starts for the Spurs over eight seasons.
OK, so what do we learn from the Spurs’ retired numbers, as it relates to the Thunder?
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are no-brainers, of course. Serge Ibaka, too.
But the Thunder has no titles yet. Would Avery Johnson or Bruce Bowen have retired numbers if the Spurs didn’t have championship banners? Doubtful. If the Thunder were to win an NBA title with Thabo Sefolosha or Kendrick Perkins on the roster, you might see their jerseys hanging from Chesapeake Arena. Otherwise, probably not going to happen.
How about Nick Collison? That’s an interesting case. Collison is an original Thunder, having come over in the Seattle exodus. A lunch-pail worker who embodies what the Thunder likes to say it’s all about. But nobody with a jersey hanging from the rafters is a Collison clone. All those guys were starters, either all-stars or hall of famers or long-time ballhandlers. Collison would be breaking from the San Antonio mold.
The truth is, the Thunder is a little young to be too worried about retired numbers. I can see the Thunder waiting another 12-15 years before retiring a number. Seems a little out of order to retire someone’s number before you retire Durant’s or Westbrook’s. And they’re not slowing down any time soon.
A lot can happen in 12-15 years. A lot of ballplayers will come and go, and some will come and stay and be quite beloved.
But if you’re looking for clues, San Antonio is a good place to start.