Spurs memory No. 24: Ice’s clandestine arrival enables Spurs to turn the corner

Gervin’s under-the-radar entrance boosts team’s credibility 

Date: Thursday Feb. 7, 1974
Place: HemisFair Arena, San Antonio
Score: Utah Stars 86, San Antonio Spurs 83.

George Gervin’s importance  to the Spurs franchise and San Antonio sports can’t be underestimated.

“George Gervin was to San Antonio what Babe Ruth was to New York,” the late Spurs owner Angelo Drossos once said.

And he was  right.

Gervin was an unheralded player with little national notoriety with the Virginia Squires after he was signed  out of the Eastern League. His salary soared from $500 a month to $40,000 per year when he joined the American Basketball Association.

While with the Squires, Gervin came under the tutelage of Julius Erving. The skinny kid from Detroit, who might have packed 170 pounds on his 6-foot-7 frame, averaged 14.1 points in 23 minutes with the Squires as a rookie behind Erving.

Gervin’s improvement was noticeable as he averaged 25.4 points in his second season with the Squires.  

But despite that productivity, Virginia owner Earl Foreman was looking at his bottom line when he sold Gervin’s contract to the Spurs on Jan. 13 for $225,000. The trade would become effective on Jan. 31.

The sale was nullified by ABA commissioner Mike Storen, the father of ESPN sports anchor Hannah Storm. Storen believed that Foreman was stripping his team of one of its major assets in Gervin and would diminish its value  if his contract was sold.

Despite Storen’s edict, Drossos and the rest of the Spurs ownership were adamant about bringing Gervin to San Antonio. They checked him into a hotel and kept him hidden from snooping reporters who tried to prove rumors about him already arriving in San Antonio.

After Storen’s declaration, the Spurs ownership sought an injunction on Feb. 5 before U.S. District Judge Adrian Spears that would prohibit him from playing with anybody but them. The team kept Gervin holed up in San Antonio in a kind of basketball limbo.

“It was kind of different because I was a basketball player and I couldn’t play,” Gervin told the San Antonio Current in a 2005 interview. “I remember going to Utah with Virginia, and Angelo sent me 10 Western Union telegrams saying you can’t play for Virginia, you belong to the San Antonio Spurs and if you play for them we’re gonna sue you.

“Angelo Drossos was a hard business man. So I flew from Utah to San Antonio where I stayed at the Hilton there for a month without playing – just waiting on the judge to rule one way or another.

The inactivity was a little unusual for Gervin.  

“Yeah, it was weird, man,” Gervin told the Current. “I was like a fugitive from basketball. Bird Averitt, who was a teammate of mine at the time, used to come by and we’d shoot around some. But it was a dead time for me. I was glad when they finally ruled and I became a San Antonio Spur.”

 So was the team and Coach Tom Nissalke, whose team was floundering with a 30-29 record when Gervin joined them for a Feb. 7 game at HemisFair Arena against the Utah Stars. Gervin started slowly, scoring only 12 points on 5-for-16 shooting from the field in San Antonio’s 86-83 loss to Stars in his first game.

 But it was only the beginning. Gervin blossomed into the first Hall of Fame player in the history of the franchise, leading the league in scoring four times and playing in 12 straight All-Star games.  

They said it, part I: “San Antonio will have to learn to obey the rules of the league just like all the rest of the other teams in the league,” ABA commissioner Mike Storen, to the San Antonio News about the proposed sale of Gervin to the Spurs.

They said it, part II: “I intend to make sure that George Gervin remains a Squire until when and if a new organization takes over ownership of the organization,” Storen, on his reasons for nullifying the sale of Gervin to the Spurs.

They said it, part III: “I’m happy to be here and ready to play. I don’t think it will be that big of an adjustment. I don’t know the exact plays and all that. But I know how to play basketball.” Gervin to the San Antonio Light about his readiness to play before initially suiting up with the Spurs.  

They said it, part IV: “He’s the one player I would pay to see play,” former Los Angeles Lakers general manager Jerry West, on Gervin’s unique basketball ability.

They said it, part V: “You don’t stop George Gervin. You just hope that his arm gets tired after 40 shots. I believe the guy can score any time he wants to.  I wonder if he gets bored out there,” former NBA coach Dick Motta, on Gervin.

They said it, part VI: “This is just another step in our effort to bring major caliber sports recognition to San Antonio,” Drossos to the San Antonio News about the Gervin acquisition.

They said it, part VII:  “When did I decide to start him? When I heard he could play for us. We’re talking about the No. 4 scorer in the league. I’m not going to sit him on the bench,” Nissalke on the reason why Gervin got so much playing time with San Antonio immediately after his arrival.

The upshot: Gervin developed  into the most  prolific scorer in San Antonio franchise history. His importance to the Spurs was immediately underscored after he arrived. The Spurs won 13 of their last 19 games to earn a playoff spot. Gervin averaged 22.3 points and 9.5 rebounds during the rest of the regular season with the Spurs. San Antonio’s late charge boosted them to the playoffs where they lost in the first round in seven games to defending ABA champion Indiana in the first round. The Spurs would qualify for the playoffs in 10 straight seasons and 11 of the 12 seasons Gervin played on the team.

Previous memorable  Spurs moments:

Previous Spurs most memorable moments:

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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