San Antonio embraces Spurs, if not arena

Despite poor view, rumors of move, fans turn out


SAN ANTONIO -- They more than half-filled the Alamodome, nearly 40,000 strong, letting out a roar that could seemingly raise the dome roof. Up near the top of the building in the 300 level, right about where the 50-yard line would be in a football configuration, the view of the court was more court curtain and less court.

But the fans in the obstructed-view seats, some of whom paid as little as $15 for a seat from which the players seemed like dots, did not care.

"Just being here for the team, that's the thrill," said Ray Holt, one of those "lucky" enough to get a seat in the 300 level. "We love our team. In winning, they've done so much for this city."

That "team" is the San Antonio Spurs, who with Friday's win over the New York Knicks hold a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven NBA Finals. Once a dominant team in the old ABA with the spectacular play of George "Iceman" Gervin, the Spurs were one of four teams from that league to survive the 1976 merger into the NBA.

Now an overwhelming favorite to win the first championship in franchise history, there's talk that the Spurs could be moving out of San Antonio if they are unable to get a new arena constructed. And while no one will say so on the record, Baltimore -- with its intentions to build a new downtown arena -- reportedly is one of the places the Spurs are exploring.

Judging from sheer crowd numbers, playing in the Alamodome would appear to be ideal for the Spurs. In drawing a shade under 40,000 in games one and two of the finals, the Spurs have attracted the second and third largest crowds in NBA Finals history. During the regular season the Spurs drew 21,094 fans per game in 25 home dates, ranking second in the league.

But playing in a building that opened in 1993 and was constructed in an attempt to attract an NFL franchise, the luxury boxes in the Alamodome are too far from the basketball court to be lucrative for the franchise.

In November the Spurs released financial projections that showed the team would lose $15.6 million over the next three years by playing at the Alamodome.

While many citizens and public officials have expressed reluctance to construct a new arena that could cost close to $200 million, a Spurs championship -- and the way the team has galvanized the community -- could provide momentum. Many of the San Antonio players have expressed a desire to remain in the city, and the future of star center Tim Duncan with the franchise could be determined by whether the team moves.

"If they want to sign Tim Duncan, they better get a new arena and a new practice facility," said Spurs guard Mario Elie. "Me and Avery Johnson [Spurs point guard] have been coaching Tim, telling him `Ask for an arena and ask for a new practice facility.' "

For David Robinson, the Naval Academy graduate, the issue of moving to a new building has existed since the Alamodome opened on May 15, 1993, at the cost of $186 million.

"It affects me a little bit because obviously when you're making decisions about how you're going to live your life and where you're going to live, it affects that," Robinson said. "I think the best thing we can do as players is put a good product on the floor.

"If we go out there and play and do our jobs, then that really bodes well for staying in town," Robinson said. "They're going to find a way to keep you here if they feel like you're worth having in town. I just try to go out there and do everything I can to make this franchise as solid as possible."

On the floor, the Spurs appear solid. Duncan is the league's best player and Robinson is four years removed from winning its MVP award and is still a defensive force. Unlike the Dennis Rodman years here, all the players on the roster are perceived to be good guys.

And the community has embraced the team, as evidenced by the slogan "Go, Spurs, Go" being displayed on everything imaginable and the partying downtown into the wee hours of Saturday morning following the Game 2 win.

The future of the team appears bright. Whether the success is good enough to keep the team in San Antonio remains to be seen.

"We have the best fans in the world," Elie said. "I just hope things can be worked out where we can stay here."

NBA Finals

San Antonio vs. New York (San Antonio leads series 2-0)

Game 1: S.A. 89, N.Y. 77

Game 2: S.A. 80, N.Y. 67

Tomorrow: at New York, 9

Wednesday: at New York, 9

Friday: at New York, 9*

June 27: at San Ant., 7: 30*

June 29: at San Antonio, 9* *-If necessary TV: Chs. 11, 4

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