|The Shot That Saved San Antonio
We have all experienced moments in life that are so transcendent, they seem to be literally frozen in time. Events such as the Kennedy assassination, Neil Armstrong's moonwalk, and the 9-11 attacks are all examples of this.
The world of sports provides us with a lot of these memories. Dodger fans have Kirk Gibson's home run from the 1988 World Series. San Francisco 49er fans have Dwight Clark's catch in 1982 NFC championship game. Fans in both Cleveland and Denver have "The Drive" and "The Fumble."
I have a few of these moments myself. Some are good, (Vince Young's national championship winning run against USC in the Rose Bowl), some are bad (the theft of Mike Renfro's touchdown catch in the 1979 AFC title game). However, there is one play that stands apart from all others in my memory - Sean Elliot's game winning shot against Portland in Game 2 of the 1999 Western Conference Finals.
Widely known as "The Memorial Day Miracle", not only is it the most dramatic play in San Antonio Spurs' history, it may well be the most important. You can make a strong argument that if this shot had not found the bottom of the net, there would not be four championship banners hanging from the rafters of the AT&T Center today.
In the strike shortened 1998-99 season, the Spurs and the Trailblazers were clearly the top two teams in the league. As was often the case back then, winning the West meant winning the NBA.
In the first game of this series, San Antonio came away with a hard fought 80-76 victory. My sister and I have shared a couple of Spurs' season tickets for quite awhile, and she and her husband attended this game. I was eagerly awaiting Game 2.
My anticipation appeared to be misplaced. The Spurs came out flat in the second game and trailed from the opening tip. At one point in the third quarter, they found themselves staring up at an 18 point deficit. This shouldn't have surprised me — my sister always seemed to draw the better and more memorable games.
However, the Silver-and-Black battled back. Tim Duncan caught fire and Vinny Del Negro came off the bench and started nailing threes. David Robinson shut down Rasheed Wallace and Avery Johnson put the clamps on Damon Stoudamire. With 12 seconds left, the Spurs were down 85-83 and had the ball at mid-court.
Mario Elie inbounded to Elliott, who had drifted out to the baseline. Stacy Augmon dove for the ball and nearly picked it off. As Elliot caught the pass, he was off-balance and falling out of bounds. He channeled his inner Lynn Swann and somehow managed to keep both feet inside the line while barely lofting a floater over the fast closing Wallace. The shot hit nothing but net, and the Spurs had their only lead of the game.
The Alamodome went crazy. A crowd of almost 40,000 people were stomping up and down and you could literally feel the bleachers shake. We all knew what that moment meant — the Spurs were going to be the 1999 NBA Champions. That shot killed the Blazers spirit. San Antonio went to Portland and completed the sweep with a pair of lopsided victories before rolling the Knicks in five games to capture the crown.
Several months later we learned how truly courageous Sean Elliot really was. He had learned that his kidney was failing and, at a great risk to his health, had decided to delay the inevitable transplant surgery until the season was over. He participated in the 1999 play-offs against his doctor's advice.
I am not a big "what if" guy, but I have to wonder about the possible chain of events which could have followed had Elliot's shot not gone in. Consider the following scenario;
1. Not only would the Spurs would have lost home court advantage to Trailblazers, they would have had to play the next two games at The Rose Garden, one of the most hostile venues in the NBA. There is every possibility that Portland could have won that series — the 1999 Blazers, who were young, deep and talented, would have had momentum squarely on their side.
2. If San Antonio had not won the title in 1999, Tim Duncan may have decided that his best chance for a ring would be in Orlando with Grant Hill. Duncan has said that he agonized over this decision. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that he would have left South Texas if he was ringless at the time.
3. In November of 1999, an election was held in San Antonio to determine if the Bexar County would issue bonds to fund the construction AT&T Center. It is widely believed at the time that Peter Holt would sell the team, and the Spurs would have relocated, if the referendum had failed. The election was held on the day the Spurs received their championship rings. Spurs fever was at an all-time high, so the proposal passed. However, had San Antonio not been the reigning NBA Champions, it might have been defeated.
Experts and analysts consider The Memorial Day Miracle to be one of the NBA's greatest plays of all-time. Of course, they are absolutely correct. However, I see it as something more than that.
The most important shot in the history of the San Antonio Spurs.