If you’re searching for an answer after the Spurs’ Game Two loss of against the Heat, I may just have a new one for you. No, it’s not Tim and Tony’s four consecutive missed free throws, nor LeBron James’ transcendent performance that did in the Spurs.
It was prophesied to me by the biggest Spurs fan I've ever met, who told me before the start of Game Two outside the AT&T Center that the Spurs would lose if someone didn’t give her a ticket to get inside. Sure enough, she was right. I couldn't stop thinking about her prophecy after Sunday’s stinging 98-96 defeat, as I was jammed shoulder to shoulder with defanged Spurs fans by the escalator, listening to a revolting outbreak of “GO HEAT GO!” from Miami fans and a nauseatingly impotent attempt at a counter-chant by Spurs fans.
I received this text:
“I told you that if i dont get in we would loose [sic].”
She was right, all right.
Can true fandom be bought? Is the greater of two fans necessarily the one who has all of a team’s special edition jerseys or shoes? If your answer to these questions is “no,” then you might understand how I could say that Earline Miller (a.k.a. “Spurs Mom”), a woman who relies almost solely on the charity of others to find her way into games, is the greatest Spurs fan I’ve come across.
Earline is a 63-year-old secretary at NE Baptist Hospital. A single divorcée, she's one of many fans who participate in the game outside the game – the game of scalpers, hustlers, and hopefuls. She just happens to be one of the more successful ones.
She's been a diehard Spurs fan since 1974, and once even had season tickets. her modest salary, she explains, puts tickets beyond her reach these days. Thus, every Spurs home game, Earline relies on connections, prayer, persistence and the coolest Spurs get-up on the planet to work her way into someone’s heart for a free ticket—and she’s pretty successful. This is the Finals, though; tickets aren’t so easy to find.
I met Earline before Game One last week, a game that she had to buy a reduced-price ticket for in the fourth quarter, and was so intrigued by her method that I decided to follow her and others like her for Game Two.
She is all Spurs, from the black and white beads in her braids and earrings to the Spurs-themed sneakers and socks on her feet. Over her Spurs jersey she wears almost the entire current roster of Spurs in the form of buttons made from her own photos of the Spurs taken after practices.
“This is Timmy’s rookie photo,” she tells me proudly as she points to the button on her left shoulder.
The gear on her body is only the beginning. Inside her bag she has what is apparently a Spurs voodoo doll with spiky hair and what appear to be two Thundersticks. “This (doll) is for when the Spurs don’t act right.” She has other Spurs trinkets collected from more than 40 years of fandom, but the prize of the collection is her photo album.
She knows everyone—former Spurs players, the parents of Spurs players, even that dude with the crocodile-skin cowboy hats who goes to every NBA game, you know the one—and she has the photographs to prove it. The small photo album holds pictures of her hugging Tim Duncan, who along with ex-Spur Malik Rose call her “Spurs Mom,” pictures with George Gervin at his Hall of Fame induction, and even a picture of her holding the Larry O’Brien trophy after the Spurs last championship in 2007.
As we sat and talked by the South East entrance to the arena, I asked whether I was cramping her mojo, whether she would be able to work her charm if I was around. “Oh no,” she replies. While we sit she says hello to former ABA-era Spur Mike Gale. Then she points out the sharply dressed Spurs chaplain. Then a doctor and his wife from the hospital where Earline works stop by and chat. All know her; none seem to have tickets they’re willing to part with.
After exchanging contact information, I went to my seat. I texted her throughout the first half to see whether she had any luck. By the third quarter, I was afraid to ask again, “Any luck?”
“Still outside,” she replied.
My curiosity was piqued. Who is outside the building during the third quarter of a tightly contested NBA Finals game? It seemed absurd to me. Either find a ticket, or get to the nearest bar to watch the game. I went outside to check on her. Earline was on the same bench as before, somewhat dispirited, yet unable to uproot herself from her Spurs and the AT&T Arena.
There were others outside, too. Martin Kirk and his son Justin—who ran back and forth from the arena window from which you could glimpse a TV screen relaying the latest game score—were also hoping for a way in.
“Why are you watching here instead of at home, or somewhere with a better view?” I asked.
“You gotta take the chance,” he explains.
He pointed out that the scalpers are totally untrustworthy these days, with a number of scalpers selling frauds.
“The only people you can trust to buy tickets from are those who weren’t intending to sell them.”
He explained that it was a more reliable trade in ’05 and ’07 and tells me, “You can put that in your story.” He wants to see the problem addressed.
As he explains the decline in scalper trustworthiness, a group of “fans” come out the door to leave. Someone asks them where they are going. “It’s done” one of them responds—it’s a one point Spurs lead midway through the third quarter. Each one of these early exiters must be a knife in the gut to Spurs fans like the Kirks and Earline, I realize.
A few windows down, a group of three young boys are watching the game on a screen inside the team shop. When asked what brought them there to watch the game, the eldest, Roger Leal, explained that his nephew graduated at the nearby Freeman Coliseum. They rushed over as soon as their nephew's name was called.
“His name starts with a C, so we came here right after,” he said, bringing about a chuckle from the others.
A young exuberant couple, Bobby Godrey and Suzy Zovolo, ran along the outskirts of the arena looking for a way in. They had just arrived from Austin on a (totally unintended pun) “spur of the moment” decision. They didn’t appear to have any plan and hadn’t yet had the naiveté beaten out of them, unlike the Kirks and Earline, about the waiting.
With nine seconds left to go in the game and a five-point deficit, I saw far too many fans exit the building for my liking, considering the Spurs had the ball. Earline confronted a woman leaving the arena earlier in the quarter, asking if she could have her ticket.
“They won’t let you in,” she responded without looking at her.
“They might,” Earline replied plaintively. And “they might” is enough for the real fans outside of the arena.