Spurs memory 4: Winning the 1987 lottery set stage for Robinson’s arrival

Date: Sunday May 17, 1987
Place: Equitable Center, New York City.

The Spurs were a floundering franchise with little hope for the future after the 1987 season ended.

San Antonio had notched a 28-54 record in the previous season – the fourth worst record in the league and the worst since the franchise’s arrival in South Texas. The Spurs ranked next to last in the league in attendance and there were persistent rumors that the team would be moving.

But that all changed with the turn of a fortunate lottery envelope, setting the stage for the arrival of David Robinson to the franchise.

The Spurs luck held out as they ended up with the No. 1 pick over Phoenix in the NBA’s lottery involving the seven non-playoff teams that year.

After NBA commissioner David Stern drew the final envelope, he announced that Suns would get the second pick. San Antonio general manager Bob Bass then expelled a huge breath of air and banged the table with his fist.

Even though Robinson wouldn’t be available for at least two seasons, it was clear he was the object of affection for every team in the lottery. The 1987 draft turned out to be weak with the exception of the 7-foot-1 center.  

”We have never considered anyone else but David Robinson,” Bass told reporters at the lottery. ”He has terrific athletic ability and waiting two years for him is worth it. We’ve waited 14 years, what’s two more?”

Bass was accompanied to the lottery by Spurs fan Roberto Pachecano, who won the trip in a local contest. Pachecano clutched a cattle spur used by his deceased father-in-law and wore a red chameleon pendant for good luck. Pachecano told reporters, according to Navy legend, that shipwrecked sailors would be safe if they found a red chameleon.

The luck held as the Spurs claimed their first No. 1 pick in the history of the franchise. 

 ”The Spurs will be safe now that they have Robinson,” Pachecano said.

 Bass had a unique strategy as he refused to watch the lottery transpire as the picks were determined.

“I used the same theory I use in golf,” Bass told the Washington Post. “If a guy is trying to make a putt and I’m down four or five bets, I always look away. And today, I looked away all six times.”

The lottery was made up of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Suns, Sacramento Kings and Spurs.  The Clippers had the greatest possibility to win the proceedings, which were held at halftime of the Eastern Conference playoff game between Boston and Milwaukee.  

As a senior, Robinson averaged 28 points, 11 rebounds and a nation-leading 4.5 blocks for a mediocre Navy team. The season before he led the Midshipmen into the NCAA Tournament’s round of 16.

Those talents led pro scouts to salivate about his pro potential. 

“David Robinson can be another Bill Russell,” Cavaliers general manager Wayne Embry told the Associated Press before the draft.

In accordance with an order issued earlier in the year by John Lehman, then the Secretary of the Navy, Robinson would have to serve only two years of active duty, instead of the usual four, following graduation from the Naval Academy. He would then spend four years in the reserves.

That placed an air of mystery before the draft that led some teams, including the Spurs, leery about their chances of signing Robinson if they picked him.

Robinson could have declined signing with the team and returned to the 1988 draft. And if he had not signed then, he could have then become a free agent and negotiated to play with any team in the league.

“We may not want to be the No. 1 team this year,” Spurs president Angelo Drossos told the AP before the lottery. “There’s a danger that he might not sign in a year, and you could waste the pick. Our fans might not understand how it is. If we draft No. 1, we have a big decision. Maybe we’ll have to make a deal.”

But after assuring themselves of Robinson, there was no way the Spurs would give up the pick.

“We’ll start selling tickets tonight,” Bass said, shortly after winning the lottery. “Buy now to get him two years from now. That’s the deal. Tonight the people will be raising heck. I’d compare him to Olajuwon and Ewing.”

They said it, part I: ”We’ve never had a center like Robinson before. We need a center and he’s the best in the draft. It’s the greatest thing that could have happened to us,” Bass to reporters after winning the lottery.

They said it, part II: “Now we have a chance to get fat again,” Bass, to the AP,   about the Spurs’ good fortune in winning the lottery.   

They said it, part III: “The fans will come back. Why? Because this guy is the best player in the country,” Bass on the chances of improving attendance with Robinson’s arrival.

They said it, part IV: “There is not enough money or players around to do that,” Bass, to reporters if he would consider trading the top pick.

They said it, part V: “I thought about asking him to give the red chameleon to me, but we decided that he would keep it and use mental telepathy to me,” Bass, on his strategy with Pachecano for the good luck from the talisman.

They said it, part VI: “Antsy, that’s really how I felt. And I’ve got to tell you, I had bad vibes about it. I thought we were going to draft seventh,” Drossos, to the Express-News about his feelings before the draft.

They said it, part VII: “We won’t have any excuses; we’ve run out of excuses. Now, there’s no reason we can’t have a good team. This has to be a plus for us or we’re in trouble,” Bass, on whether Robinson could turn around the fortunes of the franchise.

They said it, part VIII: ”David Robinson is alone in his greatness. He is the best center on the horizon,” NBA scouting service director Marty Blake, to the UPI about the obvious first choice in the draft.

They said it, part IX: “David Robinson will be the first player picked in the draft. He is in a class by himself.” Wayne Embry, to the UPI about the upcoming draft.

They said it, part X: “Yes, I’m still alive. I felt very good when we got down to No. 3, because I knew we’d get a good big man.”  then-Spurs coach Bob Weiss, after watching the lottery.

They said it, part XI: “I knew it all along. This really works.” Pachecano on the power of his red chameleon good-luck charm.

THE UPSHOT: Robinson was selected as the Spurs No. 1 draft pick on June 22, 1987. After a whirlwind courtship that included several helicopter inspections of the city, Robinson signed with the Spurs on Nov. 6, 1987.  He immediately began a two-year military hitch and joined the team for the 1989-90 season … Weiss was fired after the 1988 season and was replaced by Larry Brown … Drossos sold the team for $47 million to Red McCombs on May 28, 1988 … Robinson led the team to a 56-26 record in his rookie season as the Spurs set a then-NBA record for the biggest one-season turnaround in terms of wins. Armen Gilliam was the second pick in the 1987 pick after Robinson. Reggie Williams was picked by the Clippers with the fourth selections – the pick the Spurs would have had if the picks had correlated to their finish in the league … Robinson ended up becoming one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history, concluding his career with 20,790 career points, 10,497 rebounds, two NBA titles and the 1995 NBA MVP award. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.

Previous Spurs most memorable moments:

No. 5: Robinsonas Duncan notches near quadruple-double

No. 6: Glory goes to Horry after

No. 7: Duncan in 2005 Finals.

No. 8: Fisher’s 0.4 buzzer-beater .

No. 9: Parker makes history as .

No. 10: for Spurs ’79 series loss

No. 11: Duncan’s decision to remain .

No. 12: seals 1994 scoring title.   

No. 13: makes history.

No. 14: to wrap up 1978 scoring title.

No. 15: Strickland’s critical turnover .

No. 16: Spurs join NBA .

No. 17: Ice becomes the .  

No. 18: Kerr’s unexpected barrage .

No. 19: Rodman’s final Spurs incident .

No. 20:after injury-riddled 3-15 1996 start.

No. 21: Spurs for David Greenwood.

No. 22: Spurswith bubbly.

No. 23: Horry-Nash , may have sparked title run.

No. 24: Ice’s clandestine arrival .

No. 25: Barkleywith series-clinching shot.

No. 26: Silas becomes first Spur.

No. 27: Robinson makes history with .

No. 28: after crucial 1999 victory at Houston.

No. 29: on Halloween night.

No. 30: Torrid San Diego shooting

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