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Thunder-Spurs: Oklahoma City, San Antonio franchises have unique connection

The Spurs helped created the monster that wants to devour them, but Oklahoma City helped the Spurs become the Spurs.
by Berry Tramel Published: May 26, 2012
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— The Spurs step onto the Western Conference Finals stage Sunday night feeling a little like Dr. Frankenstein.

The Spurs helped create the monster that wants to devour them.

From Sam Presti's roots in San Antonio to the civic-minded ownership group of both franchises; from the lottery luck of Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant to the international draft success of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Serge Ibaka; from the fiscal responsibility demanded of a small market to a left-handed sixth man magician, the Thunder mirrors the Spurs in so many ways.

But consider the blueprint a partial payment for services rendered. Long before the NBA was anything but a gleam in Oklahoma City's eye, OKC helped the Spurs become the stately Spurs.

Thunder chairman Clay Bennett sits on the NBA board of governors. The Thunder is not his first NBA rodeo.

In the 1990s, before Gregg Popovich and Duncan turned the Spurs into the NBA's most consistent franchise, San Antonio was in danger of losing its treasured franchise.

The Spurs played in the Alamodome, which was no place to house an NBA team. Owner Red McCombs tired of losing money and sought to sell. Les Alexander, who eventually bought the Houston Rockets, was pumped to purchase the Spurs, and the common theory was he would move the franchise to Tampa Bay.

McCombs gave a group of San Antonio businessmen, led by Gen. Robert McDermott of USAA insurance, 48 hours to put together a coalition to buy the team. But the group was about $20 million shy of the $75 million purchase price.

So McDermott called the Oklahoma Publishing Company, which then and now publishes The Oklahoman.

OPUBCO at the time had multiple investments in San Antonio, including partnering with USAA on real estate around Fiesta Texas theme park.

The late Edward Gaylord, then The Oklahoman publisher, approved the investment in which OPUBCO bought 30 percent of the Spurs. Gaylord's son-in-law, who was OPUBCO's manager of real estate and investments, joined the Spurs' board of directors.

Clay Bennett.

McDermott was the Spurs' representative on the NBA board of governors but was elderly and rarely traveled. Bennett was the alternate governor and attended the league meetings for the Spurs.

Bennett these days keeps a low profile. Declines comment on virtually all Thunder-related issues.

But six years ago, when Oklahoma City was hosting the displaced New Orleans Hornets and was seeking its own NBA franchise, Bennett talked of his San Antonio days.

“I can't say enough good about all those guys and the market,” said Bennett said of his Spur partners.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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