Showing the way
Three vets with eight rings lay groundwork for Spurs
Posted: Wednesday June 16, 1999 12:55 PM
By John Donovan, CNN/SI
This is a special NBA Finals edition of "The NBA at a Glance." Check back every day until the Finals are decided for a new glance.
SAN ANTONIO -- In their first NBA Finals ever, the upstart but favored San Antonio Spurs have turned to a trio of veterans to clue them in on the magnitude of what they are about to try.
That is, beat the scary New York Knicks and win their first NBA title.
"I've been telling the guys, 'People don't remember what your stats are. People remember how many banners you put up, how many wins you have,'" veteran guard Mario Elie said. "I try to tell the guys, 'It's all about the wins. Don't worry about stats. These are the most important four games of your career right here. Four wins gets you a ring.'"
Elie is one of three Spurs who have won an NBA championship. Elie won two with the Houston Rockets in back-to-back years (1993-94 and '94-95). The other two ring-clad Spurs, Steve Kerr and Will Perdue, won three apiece with the Chicago Bulls. Perdue got his from '91-93 and Kerr from '96-98.
Kerr, then, is going for his fourth straight ring, which would make him the 11th player in the history of the league to do that.
"They've already built a few thousand extra seats up there [in the Alamodome] and there's all kinds of subtle little changes to the floor, to our uniforms, to the media's access to the locker rooms. Things like that," Kerr said. "It can all throw off your preparation a little bit so I tried to warn the guys about that."
The Spurs have handled themselves darn near perfectly in the playoffs, winning their last 10 straight, one short of the postseason record. They've lost only one playoff game, a first-round setback to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and are on a 42-6 roll.
That 6-8 start, though, is something they remember well.
"Early in the year, we didn't accept our roles," Elie said. "We didn't accept the fact that David [Robinson] and Tim [Duncan] were the guys who were going to get the ball. Everybody wanted to score. Everybody wanted the glory. But when we were 6-8 that kind of humbled our team. Having all this talent and only being 6-8 people were talking bad about us."
Coach Gregg Popovich's job was said to be in jeopardy and the season, which most saw as wide open with the retirement of Chicago's Michael Jordan, seemed to be quickly slipping away.
"We decided we were going to either separate or come together. We came together," Elie said. "Guys recognized what their strengths were. Guys assumed their roles ..."
The role for this team now is clear. Win the championship.
And the role for the three veterans is clearer. Show the Spurs the way.
"When I was with the Bulls the first time, the guys talked to us about it, but it still seemed very different," Kerr said. "It seemed a little strange. After the series, I remember Gary Payton [of the Seattle Supersonics, who played against the Bulls in the 1996 Finals] saying that the Sonics were kind of overwhelmed the first couple of games with the atmosphere and the surroundings. It took them two or three games to get into the series, and by then it was too late.
"Sometimes that happens to teams who are in their first Finals, and it's going to be important for us -- and the Knicks -- to settle in as quickly as possible."
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