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RJ to SA is A-OK

June 23, 2009

The last time I remember the Spurs making a major offseason trade was 27 summers ago, back in 1982.

I was a gangly 15-year-old in the midst of the cross-country roadtrip from hell with my grandmother and her husband-du-jour. We were at a brief stop at some lake house in Virginia visiting some friends of his I’d never heard of.

Despite the lack of any tangible connection with these unknown Virginians, the scenery alone made it the highlight of an otherwise nightmarish journey. But while there, I also received some breaking sports news courtesy of an obscure young channel called ESPN.

The news was this: one of the biggest sports heroes of my youth, George “The Iceman” Gervin, had been traded to the Chicago Bulls for an imposing big man known as Artis “The A-Train” Gilmore.

In the six years since they were absorbed into the NBA as a result of their 1976 merger with the ABA, the Spurs had been highly competitive. They made the playoffs each of those years, and came within seconds of making it to the 1979 Finals.

But even with the offensive wizardry of The Iceman at their disposal, they could never overcome opponents with powerhouses in the pivot, like Wes Unseld and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. So, as painful as it was to say goodbye to The Iceman, I knew Gilmore gave the Spurs a better chance at a title.

Well, Gilmore definitely had some solid seasons in San Antonio, including some legendary showdowns with Kareem and the Lakers, but he was never able to bring the Spurs a championship. It would take another big man – actually two – to finally take the franchise to the promised land more than a decade later.

Here we are four championships later, and while one of those two saviors in the post – Tim Duncan – remains, his career will soon be drawing to a close. Derailed by injuries to vital cog and team sparkplug Manu Ginobili, the Spurs have watched the past two titles get snatched by fellow perennial powers the Celtics and Lakers.

Thanks to today’s brilliant acquisition of explosive swingman Richard Jefferson from Milwaukee, it looks like a fifth championship could be in their future. Hopefully, it won’t take as long as that trade back in ’82.

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