Opening night extra special for Spurs’ Bonner

By Jeff McDonald

When the Spurs take the ATT Center floor tonight for their first game that counts since April 27, the loudest cheers are sure to be reserved for the team’s All-Star trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

The savvy fan, meanwhile, might reserve a cheer or two for Matt Bonner.

A vice president of the National Basketball Players Association, Bonner was a member of the negotiating committee that — after a five-month slog — was finally able to broker a new collective bargaining agreement with NBA owners that salvaged at least a 66-game season.

“Pretty much up until the deal happened, it was looking like we might not even have a season,” Bonner said. “I’m really happy everything worked out.”

For Bonner, tonight makes the long hours spent in a sport coat and a boardroom worth it.

An optimist by nature, Bonner never stopped believing a deal was possible. Even while being let down almost daily from July 1 until Nov. 26, when lawyers negotiating on behalf of the league and the players announced a deal had been reached.

Bonner admits there were dark days when even he thought opening night might never happen.

“Every time we met with the owners, I went in thinking we were going to get a deal,” Bonner said. “Every time up until it happened, that was the mindset, just to be let down and frustrated.”

In the end, the two sides forged an agreement that satisfied neither completely, but was enough to make NBA basketball possible.

“Everybody thinks they got the wrong end of the deal,” Tim Duncan said. “I think we gave up a lot, but we’re back on the floor, so we’re happy.”

STILL A SPUR: Calling the team’s attempts to replace him “a dead issue,” Richard Jefferson says he is eager to move past a tumultuous offseason.

Earlier this month, the Spurs seriously considered waiving the 31-year-old small forward under the league’s one-time amnesty provision, a move that would have gotten them below the luxury tax line.

In the end, the team opted to keep Jefferson for at least one more season. He is expected to make his third opening-night start tonight.

“I’ve said my piece, so there’s really nothing to revisit about it,” Jefferson said. “If something happens in the future, something happens in the future.”

JOSEPH IN UNIFORM: When rookie point guard Cory Joseph missed the first nine days of training camp tending to immigration issues in his native Canada, it seemed certain he would begin his pro career with the Spurs’ Development League affiliate in Austin.

Yet when the Spurs open the regular-season tonight, Joseph will not only be present in San Antonio — he will be in uniform.

With only 13 players on the roster, and one of them (Gary Neal) unavailable after an appendectomy, Joseph will stick around to be a warm body on Gregg Popovich’s bench.

Has he been in camp long enough to contribute?

“We’re going to have to make it enough time,” said Joseph, who will back up Tony Parker and T.J. Ford.

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