SAN ANTONIO — As the Spurs prepare to defend their world championship, rumors waft across the Riverwalk that Major League Baseball is considering placing a team here and that the NFL is also intrigued by this multicultural city of 2 million.
But these additions seem unlikely any year soon. The Spurs, winners of five championships in a decade and a half, have a smothering hold on my hometown which seems both older and younger than it used to be.
In an entirely unscientific survey of fans in sports bars in the Alamo City, I find little enthusiasm for a pro football team, as trumpeted by native son Red McCombs, who did such an impressive job owning and building the Minnesota Vikings.
Nor do I sense a clamor for Nolan Ryan’s idea of a baseball triangle, Dallas on the north, Houston on the east and San Antonio on the south. That would require another domed stadium, and I haven’t met many people here who are proud of the first one, the Alamodome.
No, most feel they have all the sports they need with Duncan down low, Parker slicing the lane, Green bombing 3’s, Kawhi defending end to end.
Only a hopeless sybarite would demand more sporting entertainment than that, and we get pro basketball in every season. Does life get much better?
“We got all the sports we need,” I hear.
“We got enough sports arenas. Don’t need more taxes.”
But how will they feel if the Spurs suddenly collapse? Duncan playing like he’s 38 years old, Manu Ginobili like he’s 37?
Parker, the trigger of the offense, is 32 and has had gently sliding numbers the past couple of years.
But Gregg Popovich, who’s coached the Spurs since before the championships began, does not worry about the talent he will send out to the court. Sure, Duncan and Ginobili will be a split second slower, but they won’t be dumber, and there’s no doubt they have some playmaking magic left.
And there’s another generation of talent ready to blossom: Green, one of the league’s two or three deadliest long-distance shooters (even if he can’t dribble), is 27, and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard is a pup of 23. Tiago Splitter. 29, provides solid support for Duncan in the front court.
The rising superstar here is Leonard, a transcendent talent, the closest we will see for a while to LeBron, whom he all but neutralized in the Finals. Leonard was a modest scorer in the regular season, but his Finals were almost Jamesian: 17.8 points per game on 61 percent from the floor and 57 percent on 3’s.
Popovich has promised to design more plays for Leonard, to take more advantage of his athleticism and full-court presence.
Continued development by Leonard and Green could offset the decline of the Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili. And the Spurs do have a promising first-round draft pick in 6-9 small-forward Kyle Anderson from UCLA. Popovich has him slated for a point-forward role that adds a new twist to his perfectly paced, perfectly spaced offense.
This is not to say the Spurs are a sound bet to repeat. After all, they haven’t done so in any of their previous four championships seasons.
The often gruff Popovich told one of the few sportswriters he respects, Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: “I’m worried for one reason. They are human beings. They are going to feel satisfied.”
That is especially likely in a city that adores the Spurs the way this one does.
To prevent complacency, Popovich is always looking for innovation. He may have found a spark in a surprising off-season hire, Becky Hammon, the first woman to be a full-time assistant coach in the NBA. Pop is not the only one to notice that Hammon, a six-time WNBA All-Star, knows more basketball than most men. The Spurs will benefit from her presence, and she will bring more female fans to the game.
I’m skeptical of polls that show more than 40 percent of pro football fans are women. I have rarely experienced the pleasure of a woman’s voice saying, “Please take me to a football game.”
But you look around a Spurs crowd and see almost 50 percent women. And despite what Charles Barkley says, most are not overweight. Not that the Round Mound of Rebound has any business faulting anyone for being heavy.
As much as I’d like to see another championship from a team that plays two hours from my home, I don’t see the Spurs as a good bet, for both the age factor and the complacency Popovich fears. And the fact that there are several other very good teams going for the rings.
Still, other mighty teams are slipping, with the ex-champs Miami Heat melting down, Paul George’s broken leg throwing the Pacers off stride, and a toe injury to Kevin Durant muffling the Thunder.
It’s likely to take a while for the new Cavaliers to take form with LeBron arriving along with a new coach, European import David Blatt. The Chicago Bulls look like the league’s best team if Derrick Rose stays healthy, but who would bet on that?
In the end, the next NBA champion could be the LA Clippers, led by slippery point guard Chris Paul and the increasingly powerful Blake Griffin and buoyed by an enthusiastic new owner, Steve Ballmer, and a second year of coaching from the therapeutic Doc Rivers.
But look for the Spurs to be kicking all the way, much like the aging Celtics and Lakers did in the latter 1980s, when titans like Magic and Kareem and Bird played on, quite effectively, into the twilight.