By Jeff McDonald
At precisely the moment the Spurs’ season was supposed to take life Wednesday night, the ATT Center stood dark and dead, its empty parking lot and bolted doors providing the most literal symbol yet of the NBA’s ongoing labor standoff.?
Three miles away at Tony’s Bar, the lights were on, and the night was young.
Eight patrons populated the snug, white stucco building a brisk walk from Alamo Plaza, sipping cheap Bud Light and $3 red wine. A Tejano number blared from the jukebox while a mirror ball sparkled and spun over a tumbleweed-vacant dance floor.
Above the bar, a television was showing a situation comedy on mute. Nobody was watching.
“Just a normal, unbusy day,” said Tony Lopez, the bar’s owner.
Wednesday was supposed to be anything but.
Had it not been for the NBA lockout, which has already devoured all of November’s schedule and has December in its callous crosshairs, the Spurs would have opened the season at 7:30 p.m. against Milwaukee at the ATT Center.
And then, Lopez says, you really would have seen his place jumping.
“I would have had people calling all afternoon, trying to reserve the tables close to the TVs,” said Lopez, who opened his bar in November 1999, months after the league’s last work stoppage was resolved. “That’s just not the case.”
Wednesday night — Opening Night that Wasn’t — found fans across town adjusting to a new normal, all the while rooting for the timely return of the old one.
A lifelong San Antonian, Lopez lives and dies with his Spurs. He wears his fandom on the walls of his establishment, which is speckled with Spurs memorabilia, some of it vintage.
A newer sign, handmade out of yellow poster board and Magic Marker and posted on the bar’s front entrance, belies its owner’s underlying bitterness about the NBA’s endless labor tug-o-war.
“Boycott All NBA Products,” it reads, in Lopez’s own scrawl.
“I think we need to ‘Occupy the ATT Center,’” Lopez joked, referencing the economic protests that have become en vogue across the country. “It’s really sad.”
At Fatso’s Sports Garden on Bandera Road, the city’s oldest existing sports bar, owner Steve Wilkinson has an equally dim view of the NBA’s labor struggles.
“I’m just hoping those greedy S.O.B.’s can come to an agreement,” he said.
Wilkinson expects interest in the NFL, college football and college basketball to help his business weather the absence of pro hoops through November.
If the lockout stretches much further than that, however, Wilkinson predicts he will begin to feel the pinch.
“After December and January, the Spurs games pay our bills,” said Wilkinson, who opened Fatso’s in 1986. “That’s where our survival is.”
Similarly, Mike Griffith, a spokesman for Buffalo Wild Wings, said that chain — which boasts seven area locations — is not expecting an NBA-related loss of revenue until football season ends.
“After the Super Bowl, I think that’s when we’ll see the biggest impact,” Griffith said.
One night into the Spurs’ postponed regular season, the difference was already noticeable at Fatso’s.
Wilkinson said no Spurs game Wednesday night meant one or two fewer waitresses, one or two fewer cooks, one fewer bartender.
“That’s four or five employees who are not going to make money because the Spurs aren’t playing,” Wilkinson said. “It’s like a snowball. It affects a lot of people.”
Over at Tony’s, where Lopez can usually be found manning the bar himself, Wednesday night was a little too typical. A little too “unbusy.”
It’s not just Spurs fans who fill Lopez’s registers on game nights. Among his in-season regulars are ushers, concessionaires and parking attendants who wander over from the ATT Center after the final horn.
“There’s no money for them,” Lopez said. “So there’s no money for me.”
For now, all Lopez can do is wait for millionaire players and billionaire owners to come to an accord on how to split their wealth, so he can maybe sell a few more $2 longnecks.
“Let’s see what kind of agreement they come to,” Lopez said. “Maybe then I can make up a lot of lost business.”
Until then, the lights remain on at Tony’s. The mirror ball spins. The jukebox sings.
The TV is on, with nobody watching.