Before You Go. San Antonio is in Texas, but this is going to be late October for the Nets, early January for the Knicks. You won't have to worry about excessive heat.
Still, the San Antonio Express-News website is predicting high 70s for the afternoon, and high 60s for the evening, with an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms. And you can't bring an umbrella into the arena. So the weather will likely be a problem.
Contrary to its Confederate past, and its Republic of Texas past, San Antonio is not in a foreign country. You will not need to bring a passport, and you will not need to change your money. It is, however, in the Central Time Zone, so you'll have to set your timepieces back an hour.
Tickets. The Spurs averaged 18,606 fans per home game last season, which is over capacity. Every game was a sellout. Not surprising, considering they were the defending World Champions. Also not surprising considering they're the only team in town, aside from the WNBA's San Antonio Stars. (They don't even have a major college football or basketball team anywhere near, and San Antonio FC have little chance of getting promoted from the new NASL to MLS.) So getting tickets will be tough.
Lower level seats, the 100 sections, are $175 and $125 between the baskets, and $84 behind them. Upper level seats, the 200 sections, are $44 and $22.
Getting There. It's 1,864 miles from Midtown Manhattan to downtown San Antonio. Google Maps says the fastest way from New York to New Orleans by road is to take the Holland Tunnel to Interstate 78 to Harrisburg, then I-81 through the Appalachian Mountains, and then it gets complicated from there.
No, the best way to go, if you must drive, is to take the New Jersey Turnpike/I-95 all the way from New Jersey to Petersburg, Virginia. Exit 51 will put you on I-85 South, and that will take you right through Charlotte and Atlanta, to Montgomery, Alabama. There, you'll switch to I-65 South, and take that into Mobile, where you'll switch to I-10 West, which will take you through New Orleans and Houston, and on to San Antonio.
You’ll be in New Jersey for about an hour and a half, Delaware for 20 minutes, Maryland for 2 hours, inside the Capital Beltway (Maryland, District of Columbia and Virginia) for half an hour if you’re lucky (and don’t make a rest stop anywhere near D.C.), Virginia for 3 hours, North Carolina for 4 hours, South Carolina for about an hour and 45 minutes, Georgia for 3 hours, Alabama for 4 hours and 45 minutes, Mississippi for an hour and 15 minutes, Louisiana for 4 hours and 45 minutes, and Texas for 5 hours. Use Exit 569 for downtown.
So we're talking about 27 hours. Throw in traffic in and around New York, Washington, Atlanta, New Orleans and Houston, plus rest stops, preferably in Delaware, and then one each in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, and maybe 2 in Texas, and it’ll be closer to 36 hours. Still wanna drive? Didn’t think so.
You could get a round-trip flight for under $600, but you'd have to change planes in Dallas. Still, that's just 7 hours, and that's a whole lot better than 36. The Number 5 bus can get you from the airport to downtown in 45 minutes.
Amtrak can get you there with the Lake Shore Limited leaving Penn Station at 3:40 PM on Tuesday, arriving at Union Station in Chicago at 9:45 AM Thursday, and switching to the Texas Eagle at 1:45 PM and arriving in San Antonio at 9:55 PM -- giving you a trip of 30 hours and 15 minutes, but nearly a full day in San Antonio before gametime at 7:30 PM local time on Friday. You would then board the Texas Eagle again at 7:00 AM Saturday, arriving at Chicago at 1:52 PM, switching to the Lake Shore Limited at 9:30 PM, and arriving back in New York at 6:23 PM Sunday. The cost would be $454 round-trip. The Historic Sunset Station is at 1174 E. Commerce Street at Hoefgen Avenue, just north of the Alamodome.
Historic Sunset Station, with the Alamodome behind it.
On Greyhound, you'd have to leave Port Authority by 6:15 PM on Wednesday, changing buses in Atlanta and Dallas, and getting to San Antonio at 5:50 PM on Friday, to make it by tipoff. Round-trip fare could be as high as $465, but it could drop to $323 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound station is at 500 N. St. Mary's Street at Pecan Street, a block from the River Walk.
Once In the City. San Antonio was founded by the Spanish in 1718, and named for St. Anthony of Padua. With over 1.4 million people, it's the 7th-largest city in America, trailing only New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and Phoenix. This makes it easily the largest city in the U.S. without a Major League Baseball team, and except for Montreal the largest in the U.S. and Canada combined. It's also the 2nd-largest without an NFL team, behind only Los Angeles (for the moment). But its metropolitan area has just 2.3 million, making it smaller than all MLB markets except Cincinnati and Milwaukee, and smaller than all NFL markets except Cincinnati, Tennessee, Jacksonville, New Orleans and Buffalo. (It's smaller than Milwaukee and Green Bay combined.)
The city's population is 63 percent Latino, and this mixed heritage is reflected in the Spurs' lineup: 5 of their current 15 players were born outside the U.S., and in 2013, it was 8 out of 15.
The sales tax in San Antonio is 8.25 percent. The San Antonio River divides addresses into East and West, and Market Street into North and South. VIA Metropolitan Transit runs buses, charging $1.20 for a single fare, and the "E" streetcar, a free downtown circulator.
Going In. The Spurs' new arena is named the AT&T Center, not to be confused with the Dallas Cowboys' new home, AT&T Stadium; or the San Francisco Giants' new home, AT&T Park. Since 2002, it has hosted the Spurs, including the last 4 of their 5 NBA Championships, the WNBA's San Antonio Stars (except for the season just ended, as the arena was undergoing a minor renovation over the summer), the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League, and the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.
AT&T Center, with the Freeman Coliseum behind it.
The complex is 3 miles east of downtown, and can be reached with the VIA Number 22, 24 or 25 bus in about 40 minutes. Parking has to be reserved in advance, and costs $14. So, better to take the bus in.
Food. San Antonio is at the center of Tex-Mex culture, especially food, in America. This is reflected at the AT&T Center. The HEB Fan Zone has Tortilla Fresca, "Extreme Nachos" are at Sections 113 and 128, and Section 105 has a Churros stand.
But the arena has lots of other offerings, including their base, the 3-Point Meal: A hot dog, a 16-ounce soda, and popcorn, at Sections 103, 118, 126, 209 and 226.
There's Top Dog hot dogs at 105, Rudy's Country Store & BBQ at 121, Bratwurst or Jalapeno Cheese Sausages at 105, Funnel Cake at 113, and Anne's Ice Cream at 111, 125, 212 and 225. Sections 122 and 200 have "Bottomless Soda Fountains," offering free refills. Coffee and frozen lemonade stands are all over. And, as you would expect in Texas, lots and lots of beer, and lots and lots of margaritas.
Team History Displays. The Spurs hang their 5 NBA Championship banners: 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014. These flanked by Conference title banners: 1999, 2003 and 2005 on the left; 2007, 2013 and 2014 on the right, followed on the right by a single banner for their Division titles: 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Manu Ginóbili, are still active, and would, most likely, be honored after their retirements. With Bowen's blessing, 12 has been given back out to forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Gervin and Robinson were named to the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. They and Artis Gilmore, whose Number 53 has not yet been retired, were elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. Gervin, Silas, Bob Netolicky and Billy Paultz were named to the ABA All-Time Team.
Stuff. Part of the arena's renovations included a larger team store, to sell more items. Whether they go with the Texas theme and sell cowboy hats with the team logo on them, I don't know.
Despite having won more titles since 1998 than any other team but the Lakers (who've also won 5 in that span, to 3 for the Miami Heat, and 1 each for the Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Golden State Warriors), the Spurs have never been media darlings. Compared to the power of Shaquille O'Neal, and the flash of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Tim Duncan seems boring -- even though he's probably been the best, or at least the most accomplished, NBA player since Michael Jordan retired for the 2nd time in 1998.
So if you're looking for books about the Spurs, good luck. Shane Frederick has done the Spurs' edition of The NBA: A History of Hoops series, while Jesse Blanchard published Dynasty: The San Antonio Spurs' Timeless 2014 Championship. Their best player has been honored with Clyaton Geoffreys' Tim Duncan: The Inspiring Story of Basketball's Greatest Power Forward, and the coach for all 5 titles with The Leadership Lessons of Gregg Popovich: A Case Study on the San Antonio Spurs' 5-time NBA Championship Winning Head Coach, edited by Leadership Case Studies.
Highlight DVDs are available for all 5 titles, and the NBA made up a collection for the 1st 4 (1997 to 2007).
During the Game. A November 13, 2014 article on DailyRotoHelp ranked the NBA teams' fan bases, and listed the Spurs' fans 5th. It mentions that the attendance has fallen below 18,000 only 3 times since 1994, before the Popovich-Duncan golden age began. (I won't call it a "dynasty.") "That's loyalty at its finest," the article says.
Spurs fans are, by Texas standards, not particularly aggressive. They don't much like the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Phoenix Suns or the Miami Heat. But they won't start trouble. They certainly won't start it with fans of the Knicks or the Nets. So if you leave them alone, they'll show you the same courtesy.
Coach Pop has hired the 1st female assistant coach in the history of men's major league sports in North America: Becky Hammon, a 6-time WNBA All-Star for the New York Liberty and the San Antonio Stars. She led the Spurs to the Las Vegas Summer League title a few weeks ago. Also this summer, she was inducted into the Liberty's Ring of Honor. In 2012, she was named to the WNBA's 15th Anniversary 15 Greatest Players.
The Spurs do not have a regular National Anthem singer. Before Game 3 of the 2013 NBA Finals, former Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker got held up at the airport on the way to San Antonio, and had to cancel with but hours to spare. They hired Sebastien De La Cruz, an 11-year-old local boy, a 5th-generation American, who'd recently appeared on America's Got Talent, with no controversy for that. He sang the Anthem wearing a mariachi costume in black and white, Spurs colors, and knocked the fans' socks off. After a despicable outcry from online racists, the Spurs responded by inviting Sebastien to do it again before Game 4, proving that San Antonio is an oasis of open-mindedness in the bigoted desert of Texas. He was invited back before Game 2 of the 2014 Finals and a 2015 Playoff game, and is now 13 and in the 8th grade.
The Spurs have The Coyote as their mascot, and he won the NBA's Mascot of the Year award for 2014. They have the Silver Dancers as their cheerleaders. They have 2 theme songs, "Go, Spurs, Go!" and "Black & Silver." "Go, Spurs, Go!" is the home fans' main chant.
After the Game. Compared to Dallas and Houston, San Antonio's crime problem is considerably less. You do not need to fear your way out of the arena.
There is a place called New York Bar at 2838 N. Loop 1604 East, but I have no idea if it caters to New Yorkers, or if it specializes in putting New York teams' games on its TVs. It could just be a name. Sideliners Grill is a known Jet fans hangout, but it's 14 miles north of downtown, and it's a place you'd have to drive to, unless you want to take 3 buses. 15630 Henderson Pass.
Sidelights. While San Antonio has become a huge city, its sports history is not very long, and not very varied. But its history goes back almost 300 years, and is worth checking out.
* HemisFair. HemisFair '68 was a World's Fair, whose structures included what remains the tallest structure in San Antonio, the 750-foot Tower of the Americas. The grounds also included a convention center, now named for the late longtime Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez; a pavilion that has been converted into the main building of the University of Texas at San Antonio; the Briscoe Western Art Museum, easily the best-known museum in the city that isn't The Alamo; the 403-foot Tower Life Building, built in the Art Deco style in 1927 and incorporated into the Fair site; the Aztec Theatre; and the HemisFair Arena, the Spurs' original home.
Built as part of the Fair in 1968, the American Basketball Association's Dallas Chaparrals, who had experimented with playing at several site in Texas, moved in for the 1973-74 season, and changed their name to the San Antonio Spurs. It seated just 10,146, so in 1978 they literally raised the roof, and increased capacity to 16,114 fans. Despite many of those nearly 6,000 extra seats being obstructed view, the Arena became one of the loudest in the NBA following the semi-merger with the ABA.
The popularity of the Spurs actually doomed the place, leading to the need for a larger arena. They moved out in 1993, and it was demolished in 1995. The site is now occupied by an expansion of the Gonzalez Convention Center.
Elvis never sang at the HemisFair Arena, but he did give concerts at the Convention Center on April 18, 1972, October 8, 1974, and August 27, 1976.
Although Dallas now has an NHL team, and Houston had one of the better WHA teams, San Antonio has never tried to get a team in either league. The closest NHL team is the Dallas Stars, 275 miles away. The closest Major League Soccer team is the Houston Dynamo, 193 miles. The closest major-college football team is the University of Texas, 77 miles.
* Alamodome. Built by Bexar County in 1993 to house the Spurs, and also to attract an NFL team, this stadium seats 65,000 people for football, and is expandable to 72,000. It annually hosts the Alamo Bowl and the U.S. Army-sponsored All-American Bowl. (Fort Sam Houston is located in San Antonio.)
It's hosted the NCAA Final Four 3 times: 1998 (Kentucky beat Utah in the Final), 2004 (Connecticut over Georgia Tech) and 2008 (Kansas' epic comeback, or Memphis' epic choke if you prefer), and it will host again in 2018. It hosted the 1996 NBA All-Star Game.
Since 2013, the Texas Rangers have closed their spring training by playing at the Alamodome, although the shape of the field makes it unsuitable for baseball, with the right field pole just 280 feet from home plate and straightaway right only 305, perilously close.
The U.S. soccer team played at the Alamodome this past April 15, beating Mexico 2-0 -- or "Dos a Cero," as U.S. fans sometimes taunt their arch-rivals, due to that score having been a famous result between them at the 2002 World Cup. The U.S. team previously played at Comalander Stadium on June 14, 1988, a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.
The Alamodome has been used in popular culture. On the sitcom Coach, it hosted the 1993 Pioneer Bowl, at which the fictional Minnesota State won the National Championship. (But game action was filmed at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.) When Gregory Nava made his film Selena, starring Jennifer Lopez as the ill-fated Latina singer, the Alamodome was used as a stand-in for her legendary Astrodome concert, even though the structures look nothing alike, inside or out.
But the stadium's main focus remains football. And yet, the only team currently calling it home is the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), who announced the starting of their program in 2006, first hit the field in 2011, and moved up to the FBS (formerly Division I-A) in 2012. The Roadrunners are members of Conference USA, and have been coached from the beginning by former University of Miami head coach Larry Coker. The Big 12 Conference Championship Game has been played there in 1997, 1999 and 2007.
The Dallas Cowboys have occasionally held training camp at the Alamodome -- making some sense, since, according to a September 2014 article in The Atlantic, they are easily the most popular NFL team in town, well ahead of the closer Houston Texans. The Canadian Football League's brief American experiment included the San Antonio Texans, who played only the 1995 season. The San Antonio Talons of the Arena Football League failed in 2014, after 3 seasons. The New Orleans Saints played 4 "home" games there in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina made playing at the Superdome impossible that season.
But in 1993, shortly after it opened, the NFL chose Charlotte and Jacksonville for its expansion teams. After the 1994 season, Los Angeles' teams chose to move elsewhere: The Rams to St. Louis, the Raiders back to Oakland. After 1995, the old Cleveland Browns chose to become the Baltimore Ravens rather than the San Antonio Whatevers. And in 2002, after the new Browns became the NFL's 31st team, the 32nd went to another Texas city, Houston. The Raiders recently made an inquiry about moving to San Antonio, but they want the Alamodome only as a stopgap facility, and the city to build them a new stadium. That's not going to happen. And so, for the time being, the closest NFL team will remain the Houston Texans, 201 miles away.
The Spurs usually played before a basketball setup of 20,662, but were able to expand to 39,554 for Games 1 and 2 of the 1999 NBA Finals. But the stadium's sight lines simply weren't meant for basketball, and after that title, the Spurs had a lot of leverage, and got a new arena.
The Alamodome has enough events scheduled so that its future is not in doubt, but the chances of an NFL team ever playing there are getting slimmer and slimmer. 100 Montana Street at Market Street. Number 26, 28 or 30 bus from downtown.
Indeed, San Antonio probably won't get any other teams, because, while the city is one of the most populous in the country, the metropolitan area is not: It would rank 29th in MLB and 28th in the NFL.
* Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium. Built in 1994, this ballpark is now the oldest in use in the Class AA Texas League, and is known as "The Jewel of the Texas League." It seats 6,200 people, with a left-field hill that can hold another 3,000. (If you've been to a Lakewood BlueClaws game, you have an idea.)
an April 2014 article in The New York Times, the Texas Rangers are easily the most popular MLB team in San Antonio, with the Houston Astros, the Yankees and the Red Sox battling it out for 2nd, despite the Astros being closer than the Rangers, 199 miles to 281.
* Alamo Stadium. Built in 1940, this remains, at its 75th Anniversary, the largest high school football stadium in Texas, seating 18,500 people. It was home to the San Antonio Wings of the World Football League in 1975, the San Antonio Gunslingers of the USFL in 1984 and '85, the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football in 1991 and '92, and the San Antonio Thunder of the old North American Soccer League in 1976, featuring English soccer legends Bobby Moore of West Ham United and Bob McNab of Arsenal. 110 Tuleta Drive, about 3 miles north of downtown. Number 7, 8 or 9 bus. The San Antonio Zoo is across U.S. Route 281, the McAllister Freeway.
* Toyota Field. This 8,296-seat stadium opened in 2013 for the San Antonio Scorpions of the new version of the North American Soccer League. But it was sold after the 2015 season, and the Scorpions were folded, and the new owners put a new team there, San Antonio FC, which will begin its 1st season next march. 5106 David Edwards Drive, adjacent to the Morgan's Wonderland amusement park, 15 miles northeast of downtown. Bus 17 to the Randolph Park & Ride, then transfer to Bus 502.
* The Alamo. If there's one thing a person not familiar with the NBA knows about San Antonio, it's that it's the home of the Alamo. A mission set up by Spanish priests in 1718 (the current building dates to 1758), it was named for the Spanish word for the nearby cottonwood trees.
It was the site of a siege, ending on March 6, 1836, by Mexican troops, trying to keep American slaveholders out of their country. That's right: Despite what the people of Texas and the 1960 film The Alamo with John Wayne playing Davy Crockett told you, if you truly "Remember the Alamo," you know that the good guys won there. Indeed: Irony of ironies, at the Alamo, the Texans were the very things today's white Texans say they hate the most: Illegal immigrants! (The Alamo is one of many bullshit-laden John Wayne movies, and it's hardly the most egregious offender.)
But it was held up as an example of Texas courage, and at the Battle of San Jacinto, 46 days later, at which the establishment of the Republic of Texas was assured (until, terrified of another Mexican invasion, they called their Uncle Sammy for help, resulting in annexation by the U.S. in 1845), the Anglo troops yelled, "Remember the Alamo!" (This led to Union troops in the Civil War yelling, "Remember Fredericksburg!"; U.S. troops in the Spanish-American War yelling, "Remember the Maine!"; and U.S. troops in the Pacific Theater of World War II yelling, "Remember Pearl Harbor!")
* San Antonio Municipal Auditorium. Built in 1926 as a municipal memorial to World War I, and still standing, Elvis sang here near the beginning of his career, in 1956, giving 2 shows each on January 15 and April 15. 100 Auditorium Circle at Jefferson Street, at the northern edge of downtown.
* San Antonio River Walk. Also known as Paseo del Rio, this network of walkways along the San Antonio River is a level below the streets of downtown, connecting downtown to the HemisFair site to the south and the Southwest School of Art and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts to the north. In between are stores, bars, and, well, it's San Antonio's answer to Greenwich Village and the South Street Seaport, all in one.
* Sea World. In addition to Orlando and San Diego, Sea World has a theme park in San Antonio. It's 18 miles west of downtown, but still within the city limits, at 10500 Sea World Drive. Number 64 bus, taking an hour and 15 minutes.
San Antonio hasn't yet been a major TV and movie location. The current NBC medical drama The Night Shift is set there, but filmed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Films produced in or around San Antonio include the 1927 silent classic Wings, the original 1972 version of The Getaway, The Great Waldo Pepper, 8 Seconds, All the Pretty Horses, Miss Congeniality, and the 1st 2 Spy Kids movies. And, of course, Pee-Wee Herman's film Pee-Wee's Big Adventure had a segment shot at... uh, I forget.
San Antonio is home to history and one of the NBA's most successful, yet underappreciated, teams. If you're a Knicks or Nets fan, git on down and check it out.