Scott Ball / Rivard Report
To mark the 68-day countdown to the 2018 NCAA Final Four, the San Antonio Local Organizing Committee asked Sean Elliott, a retired Spur and former Final Four participant, to put the event into perspective.
Thirty years ago, Elliott played on the first University of Arizona team to advance to the Final Four. On March 27, 1988, the Wildcats defeated North Carolina, 70-52, to touch off a wild celebration, one Elliott likened to a title he won 11 years later with the Spurs.
“It was eerily similar to ‘99 when we won a [NBA] championship here in San Antonio,” Elliott said Wednesday during a news conference. “Guys were hugging and crying, and we were just excited we had reached our pinnacle as student-athletes. … It was an emotion I will never forget.”
Elliott’s remarks preceded those of Mayor Ron Nirenberg, NCAA and Local Organizing Committee officials, who announced new details about the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship, or Final Four, which will be held March 30-April 2 at the Alamodome.
Inside the gym at the Higgs Carter King Gifted and Talented Academy, where the news conference was held, Nirenberg said the four-day event will pump $135 million into the local economy. He also said the Final Four will attract 70,000 visitors, fill more than 40,000 hotel room nights, and generate “priceless media exposure.”
“The Final Four is a really big deal,” Nirenberg said, noting that more than 3,000 people have signed up to volunteer. “It’s hard to overstate the importance of this event.”
The Local Organizing Committee also released a schedule of Final Four events for fans – from a free March Madness music festival at Hemisfair Park (March 30-April 1) to a Fan Fest of interactive sports activities, youth clinics, and autograph sessions at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center (March 30-April 2).
The third phase of an NCAA Final Four Legacy Park Project was disclosed as well. A basketball court, walking track, and exercise equipment will be added to a soccer field in a park adjacent to the Higgs Carter King Gifted and Talented Academy on the Westside.
The NCAA is funding the park along with the City, area businesses, and nonprofits. One of those nonprofits, San Antonio Sports, has been turning school playgrounds into community parks since 2012.
“It’s all designed to get more exercise and more health into those communities,” San Antonio Sports CEO Russ Bookbinder said. “Legacy Park at Higgs King Carter will be christened four days before the Final Four. The price tag is in the $200,000 range.”
The timing of Wednesday’s news conference held special meaning for Bruce Rasmussen, NCAA men’s basketball committee chair, former math major, and self-professed “numbers guy.”
“In 68 days, we will crown a champion that will emerge from 68 teams,” he said. “The chair of the committee happens to be 68 years old, despite the fact that he looks much older. The year 1968 marked the 250th anniversary of San Antonio’s founding in 1718.
“Located in the heart of downtown San Antonio, HemisFair welcomed in 1968 over 6.4 million visitors from around the world. Three-hundred years later, as a result of today’s amazing technology, Final Four weekend will have 25 million eyes on the city of San Antonio.”
Since 1998, San Antonio has played host to multiple Final Fours, the last one in 2008. Elliott, who played almost his entire NBA career as a Spur, expressed a wish that San Antonio could play host more often.
“This city is accustomed to taking center stage when it comes to basketball,” said Elliott, the 2018 Final Four ambassador. Indeed, San Antonio has held three men’s Final Fours, two women’s Final Fours, and six NBA championship series.
The Final Four is an event like no other,” Elliott said. “The college football playoffs are not like it. The NBA championship is not like it. The Final Four brings all eyes on San Antonio – not just basketball fans, but people around the country. We will have our chance to shine and I have no doubt we will do it again.”