Olberding revels in ABA memories

It’s understandable why former Spurs forward Mark Olberding still has such vivid memories of the ABA.

When that league folded in 1976, Olberding was the league’s youngest player. Olberding, who played 70 games for that final Spurs ABA team after arriving earlier in the year from San Diego, didn’t turn 20 until the day of Game 6 of the Spurs’ playoff series against the New York Nets.

Olberding, who has settled in San Antonio after his basketball retirement, is a natural to remember the intriguing days in the ABA. So his visit to “Spurs Flashback” Wednesday night at 9 p.m. on Fox Sports Southwest sounds like an interesting show for ABA history buffs and those fans who are pining for pro basketball because of the lockout.

Spurs broadcasters Andrew Monaco and Sean Elliott will host the retrospective of ABA memories with Olberding as the featured guest. The program will include in-depth features with former Spurs owner Red McCombs, a piece on the ABA-NBA merger, a look at the 1975 ABA All-Star Game in San Antonio and another feature remembering HemisFair Arena.  

For grizzled Spurs followers like me, the only things missing are a guest appearance by Dancing Harry and a rendition of “San Antonio Rose” played by Al Sturchio on his trumpet. 

Olberding’s memories of the ABA should make the program.

“It was very special. I was very fortunate,” Olberding says in the program. “I got to the ABA in ’75 so that was the last year of the ABA before the ABA and NBA merged. We had some classic matches between the Nuggets and the Nets with Dr. J. and everything. It really was a wild league.”

The Spurs are  showing vintage highlights of the franchise and its history throughout the lockout on the Spurs Flashback series. And following the broadcast, the team will provide a 10-minute feature called  “Postgame” on Spurs.com that will feature interviews and additional commentary from Monaco, Elliott and the guest for the program.

And in answer to several email responses over the last week, DIRECTV and Dish Network customers will not receive the program due to regional agreements.

Memory 21: Ice swapped to Chicago for David Greenwood

Date: Thursday Oct. 25, 1985

Even the legends can be traded.

But it didn’t make it any easier for Spurs Nation to accept when George Gervin, one of the most iconic players in team history, was swapped to the Chicago Bulls for journeyman power forward David Greenwood.

Gervin became expendable late in his career when his defensive liabilities were exposed along with erodihng offensive skills. He had scored a career-low 21.2 points per game for the Spurs in the 1984-85 season. 

“Nobody is ever going to wear No. 44 (Gervin’s number) with this franchise again,” Spurs’ general manager Bob Bass told the Chicago Tribune. “If I’m a fan, you don’t want to see him leave because he has done so many unbelievable things on the basketball floor.

“We’re not talking about a regular guy, we’re talking about a Hall of Famer. After playing here 12 years, he has the hearts and minds of everyone in San Antonio.”

Spurs owner Angelo Drossos had feuded with Gervin in the weeks leading up to the trade. Even after that, Drossos said it was still difficult to trade Gervin because of his legacy with the team.

“We might not be in the NBA and San Antonio might not have a basketball team right now if it weren’t for George Gervin,” Drossos told the Tribune.

But as bizarre as the notion of trading Gervin might have sounded, he never really clicked with Cotton Fitzsimmons after he was hired in 1984. Their feud continued to simmer during Fitzsimmons’ first season with the team. 

During his second training camp with Fitzsimmons, Gervin openly pushed for a trade. He did not appear for a practice or a workout for a couple of days before the trade was announced, making his intentions seem clear.

“The team cannot and will not tolerate this,” Drossos told the Express-News. “I am very unhappy and upset with Gervin. We will do something about it. People cannot just come to practice when they feel like it.”

Gervin never really connected with Fitzsimmons. His antipathy could be seen with the way he mouthed “I love Cotton Ball,” during a series of commercials for the team before the season.

In preseason camp, Gervin, then  33, had fallen behind starters Alvin Robertson and Wes Matthews in the Spurs’ starting lineup and couldn’t be guaranteed playing time. Fitzsimmons hoped to replace Gervin in the rotation with No. 1 draft pick Alfrederick Hughes.

“It was a difficult decision, but we had to make it sooner or later,” Drossos said. “We’re not happy with making the deal. Gervin has helped make the franchise what it is today.”

The trade enabled Gervin to rejoin Stan Albeck, who was in his first season coaching the Bulls. Albeck coached the Spurs for three seasons before he left in 1983 to become the New Jersey Nets’ coach.

The trade didn’t come off easily. Gervin’s agent Pat Healy didn’t let either team slide on incentives he felt his client deserved.

And the Spurs were a little bit leery about Greenwood, 28, who underwent surgery on both heels to treat tendinitis before the season started.

Greenwood never fulfilled the promise after he was the second player selected in the 1979 draft after Magic Johnson. He averaged 6.1 points per game the previous season with Chicago before his arrival with the Spurs.    

The trade was intriguing for Chicago after Quintin Dailey went into drug rehabilitation, providing an opening for Gervin to fill his place in the rotation.

“Teamed with Michael Jordan in the backcourt, we are going to be a hard act to follow,” Chicago general manager Jerry Krause told the Associated  Press.

But Jordan wasn’t excited about the trade, remembering an  incident with Gervin from the previous season, according to the Chicago Tribune.

His problems with Gervin stemmed from the previous season’s All-Star game when Gervin and several other top players in the league allegedly were involved in an incident to make Jordan look bad during his rookie season.

There were some reports that several members of the Eastern Conference All-Star team plotted to keep Jordan – an All-Star starter – out of the offense to teach him some humility. Also, several of Jordan’s teammates reportedly plotted to leave him  along when he guarded Gervin as they refused to help him on defense. 

“I have no comment on the trade,” Jordan told the Tribune. “Just say I am unhappy.”

The trade provided Gervin with a fresh start. And in order to help expedite the trade, the Bulls agreed to pick up the year remaining on Gervin’s $750,000-a-year contract, which also carried incentives up to $300,000. Greenwood would get a guaranteed $500,000 for two years.

“I’ve got a new job, a new owner, new people to deal with,” Gervin told the Tribune. “If you’re a good person, you can deal with all of that. I’ll still be living in San Antonio in the offseason. You can get me a new job, but you can’t get rid of me.

“I have no animosity towards the Spurs. They handled it the best way they knew how.”

They said it, part I: “The first wave of heat hit Thursday morning and there  will be more, much more – enough to melt the buckle off Angelo Drossos’ belt. It could be the hottest winter Bob Bass will ever see and Cotton Fitzsimmons, the coach who couldn’t get along with George Gervin, will catch more than his share of warmth from the furnace the fans will create,” Express-News columnist Dan Cook’s reaction to the Gervin trade. 

They said it, part II: “It was a difficult decision but a decision we had to make sooner or later. We decided to make it now. We’re not happy with making the deal. He’s helped make the franchise what it is,” Drossos on the trade.

They said it, part III: “I’m not ready to retire. That’s out of the question,” Gervin to the San Antonio Light about the trade.

 They said it, part IV: “I really wanted to finish my career in San Antono, but I found out that wishin’ doesn’t help. Maybe I should have prayed.” Gervin, to the Express-News  on the trade. 

They said it, part  V: “George did not initiate the trade. His choice was to continue to remain with the Spurs, retire in San Antonio and stay there for the rest of his life. But George has no choice. They said ‘George, you go,’ period.” Healy, on the trade.

They said it, part VI: ”Unfortunately, this is not the way I visualized it when I took this job. What  I saw in the future was George Gervin making a finger roll over Robert Parish of the Boston Celtics to win the NBA title. Then he would make a decision to retire to his home in San Antonio. He may be the greatest shooter to ever play the game. I don’t know of anyone who has a better touch with the basketball than Ice,” Fitzsimmons  on trading Gervin.

They said it, part VII: “There comes a time for change even though they’re not popular,” Drossos on the trade.

They said it, part VIII: “As I get into my black Porsche and drive into the darkness, will I be coming back? I don’t really know,” Gervin, as negotiations continued to percolate before the trade was announced.

UPSHOT: At the time of the trade, Gervin was the leading scorer in Spurs history and ranked ninth among NBA players with a 27.3 career scoring average.  Gervin had played in seven NBA All-Star games with the Spurs and set the NBA record for the most points scored in a quarter, established in 1978 when he scored 33 against New Orleans … Gervin scored four points in his first game with the Bulls, but never really found his way into Albeck’s rotation there as he averaged 16.2 points per game for Chicago in his final season in the league. After that season he left the NBA to play for a year in Italy before retiring from basketball. Greenwood averaged 7.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game in his first season with the Spurs, remaining with the team for 3 ½ years. He was traded to Denver in 1989 with Darwin Cook for Calvin Natt and Jay Vincent in 1989. Gervin’s jersey was retired by the team on Dec. 5, 1987. He was enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame on May 6, 1996.

Previous Spurs most memorable moments:

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