By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
LeBron James was fathered by an ex-con.
George W. Bush is...OK, extraordinarily bad example.
And, in the tradition of conquering rotten roots, the San Antonio Spurs' founding father was none other than a wacky ABA franchise known as the Dallas Chaparrals.
That's right, "They" were born and raised as "Us."
Doesn't mean we shouldn't hate the Spurs. For Tim Duncan dominating as both a winner and a whiner. For Bruce Bowen getting under more people's skin than Dr. 90210. For San Antonio annually treating our Mavs like its personal piñata.
When the incestuous NBA Western Conference Semifinal series moseys up Interstate 35 to American Airlines Center this weekend, we should cheer our new team and jeer our old one. But also, we should realize the only reason the Spurs are San Antonio's treasure is because long ago the Chaps were discarded as Dallas' trash.
See the resemblance?
Avery Johnson, the Mavs coach, played nine years and won one championship for the Spurs.
If that isn't enough to confuse you into pulling for the San AnDallas Mavsspurs, how 'bout the cities' similarly shallow starlets (Eva Longoria and Jessica Simpson), tall towers (Tower of the Americas and Reunion), overpriced amusement parks (Sea World and Six Flags) and city-side waterscapes (Riverwalk and--coming soon in 2037!--the Trinity River Project)? Shoot, even our football team is moving training camp to their town.
But if these days they're sorta like us, back in 1967 they wereus.
Or were we them?
When a group of wacky businessmen decided the NBA needed a ribald rival complete with 3-point shots and red, white and blue basketballs, the bizarro ABA was hatched. Accordingly, Dallas, one of the league's original 11 teams, was constructed upon hilariously unstable foundations.
Owned by future Dallas Mayor Bob Folsom, the team arrived at a nickname by--tada!--simply arriving. Seems the first board members meeting took place at the old Dallas Sheraton Hotel in, of course, The Chaparral Room. The Chaps' roster was assembled just as haphazardly. The team's first general manager, former SMU star Max Williams, compiled a list of draft prospects for co-owner Roland Seth. But instead of alphabetical order as it was intended, Seth misconstrued the list to be in order of preference, thereby producing the Chaparrals' first draft of Matt Aitch, Jim Burns, Gary Gray, Pat Riley and Jim Thompson. Oh yeah, and how about a coach? In '72 Tom Nissalke beat out a candidate named Dick Motta by offering to squeeze in his interview at the Fairmont Hotel before a performance of a hot duo called Sonny and Cher. Somehow, led by inaugural player-coach Cliff Hagan, Cincy Powell and Maurice McHartley (who played with a toothpick in his mouth), the surprising Chaparrals went 46-32 in their inaugural season and earned the first and only playoff series victory of their six-year life.
With the Mavericks still just a motivated molecule in Don Carter's DNA, the Chaps were the coolest--re: only--game in town. And for some of us 8-year-olds, heaven was sitting on wooden bleachers, munching 10-cent popcorn and keeping up with the point total of Laverne Tart and his red Chuck Taylor high-tops via hand-operated scoreboard placards.
The Chaparrals flew Braniff to road games and played home games at SMU's Moody Coliseum and the Dallas Convention Center, charging a whopping $4 general admission for colorful, often-comical performances right out of The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.
Despite the growing pains, marketing gimmicks and extremely creative accounting that made $15,000 player salaries profitable, the ABA gained traction. While the stuffy NBA was Red Auerbach, the snazzy ABA was Red, White and Blue.
With players like Ron Boone, Steve Jones and Goo Kennedy sporting huge Afros, knee-high tube socks and gaudy jewelry, the Chaparrals and their runnin' roadrunner logos played against future superstars Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore and Moses Malone. You can have LeBron; give me Dr. J with flying 'fro and flamboyant pre-game dunks.
But suddenly a team known as the Dallas Cowboys started winning Super Bowls, and basketball in Dallas was reduced to a JV appetizer. The Chaps played their final game--a 122-120 victory over the Carolina Cougars in front of a paid group of 134 including yours truly--on March 26, 1973.
Duncan was still minus-3 years old.
But four hours south, San Antonio businessmen Angelo Drossos and Red McCombs were already preparing his throne. Searching for a way to entertain a city that lacked a major college or any pro sports, they leased the Chaparrals for $1--no shit--during the '73-'74 season and then purchased the franchise from Folsom for a cool $725,000.
While Dallas barely blinked at its loss, the Spurs had Willie Nelson sing their first national anthem at HemisFair Arena, debuted basketball's first dance team--The Spurettes--and commenced an evolution from chumps to champs by paying $300,000 to the Virginia Squires in '74 for a kid named George Gervin. Two years later the NBA merged with the ABA, and the Spurs started upgrading coaches from Doug Moe to Larry Brown to Popovich, and players from Billy Paultz to James Silas to David Robinson. By the time the Mavericks were born, seven years after the Chaps' departure, the sanctimonious Spurs had a tough time remembering, much less appreciating, their heritage.
A rivalry, fueled by address and ancestry, was born.
From the same family tree, the teams won almost the same number of games this season (Spurs 63, Mavs 60). And in Game 1 last weekend--other than the dominant Duncan in the middle--they were mirror images.
Alas, the copy is never as good as the original, and the Spurs will prevail in seven games because of a glaring difference between basketball teams and basketball towns--San Antonio boasts 126 playoff wins and three championships; Dallas, 50 and zilch.
But sit back, enjoy the series and realize we're blessed with one of those rare win-win scenarios where the survivor will be either our present or our past.