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Best Team You've Never Seen
Bruce Newman
March 08, 1982
The eyes of San Antonio may be upon the high-ridin' Spurs, but few others' are
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March 08, 1982

Best Team You've Never Seen

The eyes of San Antonio may be upon the high-ridin' Spurs, but few others' are

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"We are only as good as he makes us," Albeck says. "There's no one in the league who can stop him one-on-one. Most coaches would kill for a guy who can score 22, 23 points a game, and Ice does that in a quarter." Two weeks ago Gervin broke out of a mild shooting slump by making 22 of 29 field-goal attempts for a season-high 49 points against Detroit—in just 33 minutes.

It's useless to shade Gervin to one side defensively because he can shoot with either hand. His long stride and deceptive gait make up for a lack of quickness. "He could get open while standing still," Houston Coach Del Harris once said. Gervin is the most adept practitioner of the bank shot since the Celtics' Sam Jones, though he prefers to slither down the lane for one of his double-pump Ice pick specials. "My best shot is a layup," he says, "and that's what I strive for. But I'm able to shoot the other shots." And Van Gogh could paint a little. Gervin belongs with Julius Erving and David Thompson, on those rare occasions when Thompson flashes his old form, as one of the most exciting performers in the game—even if few recognize it. "If you aren't ready to play," Thompson says, "he'll set a record on you."

Two seasons ago the Indiana Pacers promoted a home game by highlighting the matchup between Gervin and Dudley Bradley, whom the Pacers were then billing as the Secretary of Defense and who, according to the Indiana publicists, was going to "melt the Iceman." Gervin scored 55 against Bradley that night, on a dizzying array of shots. Bradley later mumbled something about having "at least held him to 28 in the first half." One Spur says dryly, "The only way to stop Ice is to hold practice."

Whatever the reason, Gervin is habitually late for workouts and sometimes doesn't show up at all. On most teams that might lead to dissension but the Spurs don't seem to mind. The only real problem caused by Gervin's absenteeism occurred this season between late December and mid-February, when San Antonio had only 10 healthy players on the roster. Forward Paul Griffin went down with a knee injury and another forward, Kevin Restani, was waived. Owner Angelo Drossos let Restani go despite Griffin's injury and didn't replace him for almost two months. The results of this penny-pinching were often comical. When Gervin was AWOL from a San Antonio shootaround in Los Angeles several weeks back, Albeck was forced to use trainer John Andersen to play the part of Laker Forward Kurt Rambis in practice. Andersen just may be a better player than Rambis, but it was an inconvenience nonetheless.

The following week Gervin missed two more practices, but during that period he laid waste to Detroit with his 49-point effort and had 38 in a 126-121 victory at Denver. After Gervin missed three games because of an injury earlier this season, he returned with no practice and scored 47 points against Seattle. "He shows up and plays every night," says Albeck. "He's not like a lot of guys who miss practice and then go into the can in the game." Albeck has frequently fined Gervin and even appointed him team captain to give him a sense of responsibility, all to little avail.

"If we're going bad," Forward Mark Olberding says, "Ice will be there to work on his game. But the guy really doesn't need to practice to get his timing down. He can get 40 points any time he wants to."

"If Ice isn't there," Corzine says, "we know it's because he's got more important things to do."

No matter how it may sound, the Spurs are far more disciplined these days than they were from 1976-77 to 1979-80 under Doug Moe, who's now head coach at Denver. Albeck was hired last season and brought with him a 70-page playbook and some very firm ideas about defense. "We just started with the premise that they didn't know anything," Albeck says. "They liked that." With the addition of the beefy Corzine in the middle, the Spurs were transformed from a finesse team to a combination of fire and Ice. The Bruise Brothers ( Corzine, Olberding, George Johnson and Griffin, augmented this season by rookie Gene Banks) set picks for Gervin and then hammered the opposition on the boards. "Mark and I think of ourselves as enforcers," Corzine says. "If somebody takes a shot at Ice, they're going to have to pay the next time they run through one of our screens. We also feel it's a reflection on a lot of other people when George scores 40 points. When he pops open for a shot, you feel like you're part of that."

Corzine also brought some needed scoring when he was picked up from Washington, where he'd been a bench warmer for two seasons. His 9.8 points a game make up for Johnson, the starting center, who averages more blocked shots (a league-leading 3.27) a game than he does points (2.8). At 6'11" and 220 pounds, Johnson is too skinny to be anything more than an honorary member of the Brothers. Last week Johnson was recovering from a broken nose. Someone once suggested to Albeck that Johnson, whose every offensive foray is an adventure, may be the league's first 70% dunker. "More like 50%," Albeck replied. "There's only a 20% chance he's going to catch the ball in the first place."

The Spurs' other statistical leader is Point Guard Johnny Moore, whose 9.6 assists per game lead the NBA. Two seasons ago the Spurs cut Moore, whereupon he returned to his alma mater, the University of Texas, to become a graduate assistant coach. Last season San Antonio gave him a second look and Moore quickly blossomed into the Spurs' best passer. When longtime star James Silas was traded to Cleveland during the off-season, Moore was handed the playmaking job. Moore also has the best assist-to-turnover ratio among the NBA's top 10 playmakers. He generates 4.38 assists for every turnover he commits, compared to the Lakers' Earvin Johnson, who turns the ball over once for every 2.39 assists. Moore, who has played 530 fewer minutes than Johnson this season, has 11 more total assists.

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