Why do San Antonians love their Spurs? Simply put, because they are the good guys – players then and now who have captured our sporting hearts. And we especially get riled up when they have the NBA’s best record, or go on an 11, 12, or even a 20-game win streak and they still sit under the national media radar.
From the beginning there was a connection. A connection with players like George “Iceman” Gervin, who dazzled us with his finger rolls, or James Silas, who lifted our spirits when the games certainly looked lost. He came through often enough for a win to earn the moniker, “Captain Late”.
Contributors to San Antonio Magazine's, “52 Things Every San Antonian Should Do,” made “display true Spurs fever at a game by donning some over-the-top fan wear” #7 on the list. Does the love for the Spurs diminish when life takes you away from San Antonio? No. Jolene Almendarez left San Antonio to attend the University of Alaska at Anchorage to earn a degree in journalism. In a December 2012 column for the student newspaper,The Northern Light, she wrote about Stern’s fine after Coach Popovich sent four key players home prior to a nationally televised game against the Miami heat. In the column she writes:
"They lost the game but snagged the last laugh nonetheless. And they certainly made me feel like I should start stashing my lunch money away, just in case they bring some more of their A-game to the playoffs and land themselves in another Finals series. If they do, goodbye classes, The Northern Light and Anchorage. I’m going home to the beautiful Alamo city to watch that!"
San Antonians love their Spurs because not only have they brought pride and recognition to our city with four NBA Championships, they also are out in the community giving of themselves with their time, especially to the young folks. “The Admiral” David Robinson founded The Carver Academy, which could prove to be his main legacy, even more than what he accomplished on the court, said Lawrence Payne, the team's executive vice president of corporate partnership and broadcasting.
As much as fans love their team, the Spurs organization returns that love by giving back to the community. And appropriately “give back” is in the name of the Spurs Sports & Entertainment (SS&E) non-profit arm.
The organization is now known as Silver and Black Give Back (SBGB), but when it was established in 1988 it was known as the Spurs Foundation. It was so titled because the Spurs of the National Basketball Association (NBA) were the only team in the SS&E family.
Since then, the Silver Stars (Women’s National Basketball Association, 2003), the Rampage (American Hockey League, 2005) and the Austin Toros (NBA-Developmental League, 2007) have come under the SS&E umbrella. In 2010, the Spurs Foundation name was changed to Silver and Black Give Back, silver and black being the basic color scheme of all four teams.
SBGB is celebrating its 25th anniversary this season. The celebration will culminate at their annual Tux N’ Tennies gala presented by SWBC and H-E-B on March 9 at the AT&T Center.
The Spurs were part of the now defunct American Basketball Association when a group of San Antonio investors led by Red McCombs and the late Angelo Drossos purchased the Dallas Chaparrals and brought the team to the Alamo City in 1976. Credit for establishing a culture of philanthropy goes back to McCombs, according to Payne.
“Even back then” said Payne, “the ownership recognized that a sports team besides just playing the game and trying to build a championship team should, like any business, be a good corporate citizen.”
Even though there wasn’t a formal non-profit arm during the early years of the Spurs organization, they were still very active in the community, “the only thing that wasn’t there was a 501(c)3 and a concentrated effort to raise money for the signature youth programs, which we are doing now with Silver and Black Give Back,” Payne said.
When the players and coaches weren’t visiting nursing homes, hospitals and youth organizations, Payne says the Spurs were providing items for auctions or fundraisers when requested by local area non-profits or school organizations.
Mary Havel was the first executive director of the Spurs Foundation and spent three and a half years at that position. It was always important for players to participate in the team’s community outreach efforts. Havel was impressed that the initiative involved the owners as well players and coaches.
Havel says, “(The owners) wouldn’t just say, 'David Robinson or Sean Elliott, you need to go visit the children’s home.' They would also say 'I’ll see you there,' ”she said.
Havel remembers when Popovich and several of the Spurs players traveled in a recreational vehicle across South Texas to communities like Beeville, Corpus Christi, Brownsville and Laredo as part of the community outreach initiative.
Once the organization’s 501(c)3 non-profit arm was established, the mission became more narrowly defined: helping the youth of San Antonio and South Texas.
Today, SBGB is focused on youth sports and youth-led service, headlined by the Spurs Youth Basketball League (SYBL) and the Team Up Challenge.
The SYBL was co-founded in 1991 by Popovich and Frank Martin, president and CEO of the Kids’ Sports Network. The program, formerly known as the Spurs Drug Free League, was a recipient of President George H. W. Bush’s Thousand Points of Light award for its anti-drug effort. More than 275,000 kids have participated in the program, and about 2,000 coaches have been helped with training each year since the program began.
The Team Up Challenge is a program which encourages youth to take their classroom education and come up with ideas and activities to help address real world problems in their communities or schools.
Laura Dixon is the current executive director of Silver and Black Give Back, a position she’s held since November 2009.
Getting people to think about giving back to the community starts when you are young, she said. There are five categories in the Team Up Challenge from which the youth groups can choose: arts, education, health and wellness, environment and uniformed services.
There’s an Academic Year period, a Summer period, smaller grants for Team Up Anytime and a scholars program which provides college mentors for the k-12 semifinalists.
During the Academic Year period, 20 semifinalists are chosen who receive $2,500 of seed money to begin their projects. After several benchmark periods, the semifinalists appear before a selection committee. Five are chosen as Team Up Challenge champions and awarded $20,000. During the Summer period, 10 semifinalists are chosen and receive $1,000 in seed money; three are chosen as champions and awarded $10,000. (Full disclosure: yours truly has served on the selection committee.)
Dixon says she doesn’t envy the members of the selection committee because every year the quality of the applications and projects improves. She’s right, when serving on the selection committee it was inspiring to see the ideas and activities the young folks presented. It was difficult to choose just five or three as champions.
The Team Up Challenge winners and semifinalists are featured on the SBGB website. Here, you’ll find young individuals whose ideas and efforts were rewarded with Team Up Challenge grant money, such as Jayci Derby, who established “Jayci’s Wreaths for Heroes”. She came up with the idea when her grandfather, a veteran, passed away and was laid to rest at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
While laying a wreath on her grandfather’s headstone, she noticed many of the headstones didn’t have wreaths. She told her mother that she believed all the headstones of the fallen soldiers buried at Fort Sam Houston’s National Cemetery should have a wreath to honor their sacrifice and wanted to do something about it. Being awarded a grant from SBGB to augment her fundraising effort, she and 2,500 volunteers placed 10,000 wreaths on the headstones at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.
The Harlandale High School G-Force is a Team Up Challenge Champion, awarded a grant for their efforts of educating their fellow students about going to college.
“Team Up Challenge to me means giving back to the community. We’re giving back to our peers, we’re informing them about college and that’s where I feel Silver and Black is giving to us so we can give to other people,” said Destiny Ramirez, a member of the organization.
Since 1988, with the beginning of the Spurs Foundation thru today as SBGB, the organization has given more than $350,000 annually to youth organizations via Team Up Challenge, donated 3,000 game tickets each season to military families, and fed more than 5,000 families.
For more information, visit www.silverandblackgiveback.com.
Ernie Villarreal most recently worked as news program producer at Texas Public Radio. Over about 24 years at TPR, he earned a number of awards from Texas Associated Press, Women in Communications, and the Texas Public Health Association. He’s contributed work to a number of public radio programs including NPR, MarketPlace, LatinoUSA and On the Media. Currently, he works as a freelancer in San Antonio.