In San Antonio, Spurs brake for goose bumps, not speed bumps, as when Steve Kerr steered onto his street after Game 6 of the Western Conference finals and slowed to see, in yard after yard, hand-lettered signs limned in porch light: CONGRATULATIONS, STEVE, and GO SPURS GO. His own yard lay beneath a riot of toilet paper, as if—in the hours since he'd left home—a shower of Charmin had fallen on the city. Kerr, touched, left the TP where it lay, a two-ply ticker tape.
A day later, as all of San Antonio was abuzz about Kerr—and his four three-pointers that sent the Spurs into the NBA Finals against the Nets—he slipped into an Italian restaurant for dinner. As recognition registered, patrons began popping to their feet, table by table, until the entire room had risen in applause. "Pretty amazing," says Kerr, 37. "And all for 13 minutes of action."
This is what it's like to be a Spur in San Antonio, where players are recognized everywhere they go, and even where they don't go: As I disembarked from a hotel elevator last week in S.A., a middle-aged woman, starstruck in her Spurs shirt, looked at me and said, " Danny Ferry?!"
When I recounted this story to the actual Ferry between Games 1 and 2 of the Finals last week, the Spurs forward—6'10" and bereft of body fat—said, smiling, "That's quite a compliment for you."
Indeed it is, for the Spurs are beloved in San Antonio, a city that the hometown Express-News last week noted has been "deemed the fattest in the United States and derided as 'Fat Antonio.' " Which might have something to do with the surplus of signs, on restaurant marquees throughout the city, for something called a Breakfast Taco.
For San Antonians, then, there is perhaps a vicarious component to the Spurs' exertions, a kind of cardio by proxy. And for good reason. San Antonio was the first city to have or, indeed, to need an air-conditioned hotel, office building and fleet of municipal buses. The thought of alfresco exercise there—in June, in 98� heat—quickly yields to longneck Lone Stars on the Riverwalk, the city's absurdly attractive urban waterway, which is enlivened by bars, boats and (what's better?) mariachi music.
Which made San Antonio an appropriate host for the first NBA Finals game between teams from the old ABA, a league whose defensive siestas—and 'fro-riddled fiestas—are legendary. San Antonio has a street named George Gervin Court, a George Gervin Youth Center, a George Gervin Technology Center and—best of all—a George Gervin, the ex-Spur who held a press conference last week to address, among other things, the relative circumference of his former hairdo. "Darnell had a 'fro, man," Gervin said of ABA rival Darnell Hillman. "I had a mini-'fro."
By his side, ex-Net Julius Erving pointed an endless E.T. index finger at Gervin and said, "This is his town." Even now, shorn of his own memorable mushroom-cloud 'fro, the Doctor remains more regal—more indescribably cool—than any athlete on Earth. Or as NBA senior vice president of communications Brian McIntyre put it perfectly: "Julius still has his Juliosity."
Doc and Ice were once literally basketball's poster boys. Standing at center court last week in San Antonio, they appeared to have climbed off my own bedroom wall circa 1979. When I asked Gervin how often he is asked to sign—by aging, unhinged, Sharpie-armed nerds—the seminal Nike poster of himself seated on an easy chair of ice blocks, he said, "All the time, man, all the time." And then the Iceman wenteth, ducking out a side door, fearing, with good reason, that I was one of those nerds.
The pop-cultural presence of present-day Spurs is no less pervasive. Spend a few days in San Antonio and you'll see, several dozen times, Malik Rose's TV spot for Accident & Injury Chiropractic. In a performance more wooden than Pinocchio's, an actor endures a litany of industrial injuries to the spine, as the Spurs forward urges us again and again to call "921-PAIN. That's 921...PAIN."