Player rep Bonner opens up about pains from lockout

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By Mike Monroe

It wasn’t until Matt Bonner stood on the first tee box at the TPC San Antonio golf course on Monday afternoon that the reality of another NBA season struck him.

Hurrying to the annual tournament, which benefits the Kids Sports Network, from the Spurs’ practice facility after a vigorous workout was, well, par for the course.

A year ago, things were dramatically different.

Then, when the sharp-shooting forward hosted his tournament at Canyon Springs Golf Club, it came after a flight from the Northeast the previous afternoon. As a vice president of the players’ association, he knew he would be on his way back to New York the next morning for another negotiating session with NBA owners and executives.

Both sides were in a weeks-long collective-bargaining dispute that had turned ugly while trying to end a lockout that already had extended through the entire month of October, ordinarily the time training camp takes place.

It was a stressful time for all of the players, but especially so for those involved in the talks. There were nights, Bonner said, when it was hard to sleep.

The contrast Monday morning was stark. The only stress Bonner felt: Moderate concern he might hit a spectator with that first tee shot.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich started practice early to accommodate Bonner’s event, then followed him to the course to participate in the fundraiser. Sean Elliott, the former Spurs All-Star who’s now a broadcaster with the team, also played in the tournament.

A year ago, the league wouldn’t even allow team employees and the players to speak to one another.

“Absolutely, it hit me how different this year was,” Bonner said Thursday. “I remember how last year we were trying hard to get clearance to have Coach Popovich and Sean and some of the other retired players who work with NBA teams to come out and participate and we couldn’t get it.

“It was really nice this year to not have to worry about that; not have to worry about something happening in the lockout to where I couldn’t even make it to my own tournament.”

Last year’s lockout didn’t end until Nov. 26, with the start of a shortened 66-game 2011-12 season pushed back to Christmas Day.

Training camp lasted a little more than a week.

The lockout took a toll on Bonner and the other players on the union’s executive committee.

“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Bonner said. “You go from thinking you’re going to get the deal done and get back to your normal life and doing what you love to thinking it’s never going to happen.

“It was up and down and down and up. And then when it did happen it was, ‘What?’ It didn’t even seem real after everything we had been through.”

Bonner has played only 11 minutes in only two of the Spurs’ four preseason games and has yet to score, attempting only three shots. He knows his time will come.

“It’s a long preseason this year, and that’s kind of nice,” he said. “Last year, with the lockout, there was just one week of hard practices and then right into games.

“That was a lot of fun, but right now we’re getting to work on a lot of things we didn’t get to work on last year and focus in on executing the details.”

His game, he said, is taking shape nicely in practice sessions.

“I’ve played a whole lot in practice, I can tell you that,” he said. “I feel like I’m plugged into my role, and that’s what I do and I think I’ve been doing a good job executing it.”
Twitter: @Monroe_SA

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 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.

Most memorable Spurs moments countdown starts Monday

It might be Sean Elliott’s Memorial Day Miracle.

Or the times that lottery balls decided the history of the franchise, leading to an eventual string of  title victories.

It might be the time when Manu Ginobili caught a bat or when George Gervin and David Robinson won scoring championships on the final day of the season.

Or it might have been when Avery Johnson’s shot settled a championship, Elliott returned from a kidney transplant or James Silas came back to have his jersey become the first in team history to be retired.

The Spurs’ 38-year history in San Antonio is stacked with a rich trove of memorable moments during a rich history that has seen the Silver and Black claim four NBA titles and emerge as one of the NBA’s most enduringly successful franchises.

Most fans likely would have difficulty whittling that history down to a workable list of the most memorable moments in franchise history.

After working all summer in settling our group, Spurs is ready to rank the 30 most memorable memories since the team came to San Antonio in 1973.

We’ll have them all from the most thrilling victories and crushing defeats. And we’ll have a little fun to as we rank the “OMG” moments that have shaped the team over the years. We’re aiming to revisit those memories when Spurs fans still remember where  they were when they initially experienced them.

Look for the release of one moment each day beginning on Monday. It will be a regular feature each day over the next six weeks as we count down to the top memory in mid-November. 

And before we start, we’re a little curious about Spurs Nation and its collective memories.  Which moments do you most readily remember?

Feel free to comment as we release our list over the next few weeks as we relive the rich history of San Antonio’s first big-league franchise.