Before Tim Duncan and David Robinson patroled the paint in San Antonio, there was a group of players that made the paint non-existent to opposing offenses.
In the days where helmet hair ruled and long socks were more than a fad came the “Bruise Brothers.”
After the 79-80 Spurs team, coached by Doug Moe and Bob Bass, put up a lackluster 41-41 record and were nearly dead last in defense, the Spurs brought in Stan Albeck and made several roster changes.
At the time the Spurs were known just for a high-scoring offense, but Albeck assembled a group of 6 big men who became known for rebounding and blocking shots.
Together they led the NBA in rebounds, blocked shots (3rd in fouls) and led the Spurs to a 52-30 record and a division title, while showing San Antonio a new brand of basketball built on hustle, physical play and a blue collar work ethic.
Dave Corzine, , Reggie Johnson, Paul Griffin, Mark Olberding, Kevin Restani and George Johnson made up the Bruise Brothers, a name given to them by former Express-News columnist Kevin O’Keefe.
Corzine was a 6-11 center from DePaul. While he may be best known for being included in a trade that brought over Artis Gilmore, Corzine was no slouch. He started all 82 regular season games both seasons he was in San Antonio, averaging 10.5 points and 7.8 rebounds in the 1980-81 inaugural season of the Bruise Brothers. Corzine enjoyed a 13-year career in the NBA, and while his best year came in Chicago, he’ll always be remembered for his two years in the Alamo City.
After his NBA career, Corzine went back to DePaul, where he was the color analyst for the Blue Demons on WSCR 670 AM until being named the Director of Men’s Basketball Operations last September.
George Johnson was another two-year Spur, coming to the Spurs via free agency the year Albeck was named head coach. Although the Spurs got him in his 10th NBA year, he would go on to lead the Spurs, and the league, in blocked shots. In 1980-81, he averaged 3.4 blocks per game to go along with his 7.3 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. In 1982, the 6-11 Johnson, who became known as “Mr. Swat” was traded to the Atlanta Hawks. Two seasons later, he finished his NBA career in Seattle.
Mark Olberding was one of the mainstays of the Spurs from the ABA days. The Melrose, Minnesota native played in San Antonio from 1975-1982. In his last two years for the Spurs, under the Bruise Brothers’ reign, Olberding enjoyed the best seasons of his career giving the Spurs energy, scoring and rebounding off the bench. In 1980-81, the 6-8 Olberding averaged 10.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, only bested by his 81-82 averages of 12.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. After his playing days, OIberding returned to San Antonio and at one time coached the UTSA Men’s Basketball Team.
Paul Griffin was a a small town legend playing for Shelby High School in Michigan, leading them to two state titles. Originally drafted by the Spurs in the 1976 ABA Draft and the New Orleans Jazz in the NBA Draft, Griffin chose the greener pastures of the NBA and played next to “Pistol” Pete Maravich for 3 years. But the Spurs would get their man when the Jazz sent Griffin to San Antonio as compensation for signing Allan Bristow.
Griffin would play out the rest of his career in San Antonio, filling a role as a 20 minute a night reserve big man that could board down low, get hustle points and pass out of the post. He played all 82 games of the 80-81 campaign averaging six points, six rebounds and three assists. Although undersized at 6-9 and 205 lbs., Griffin, like the rest of his counterparts, did not shy away from mixing it up in the paint.
Rounding out the Bruise Brothers squad were Kevin “Big Bird” Restani, who was sold to the Spurs by the Milwaukee Bucks, and Reggie Johnson, a draft pick out of Tennessee. Restani was probably one of the more underrated members of the Bruise Brothers. Before the group was formed, he averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in 24 minutes per game, but with the arrival of new post help, Restani’s numbers shrunk to 15.6 minutes per game. Even in extremely limited playing time, Restani found a way to contribute, averaging seven points and nearly three rebounds per game. Midway through the 81-82 season, the Spurs waived Restani and he played out the second half of the final year of his NBA career for the Cavs.
To this day, he’s still very active in basketball, acting as coach and starting center for the Olympic Club’s Golden Masters 50 and over basketball team in San Francisco. He also serves as a camp director for the Super Skills Basketball Camp and coached at the High School level in the Bay Area and professionally in Italy.
Reggie Johnson, the sixth member, somehow was able to average over 20 minutes per game his rookie year with the Spurs and made an impact right away, averaging 10.2 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. But Johnson only lasted one full year in San Antonio. He was traded with Rob Brewer and cash to the Cavs in 1981 for Mike Mitchell and Roger Phegley.
Aside from most of them measuring in at 6-9, the common thread each player had was that they mostly played only a few years for the Spurs and that they were all able to make at least a decent contribution for the Spurs under Albeck in 48 minutes among six players. How Albeck managed to get every player consistent minutes is beyond me, but somehow he managed to make it work to form a very formidable frontcourt from minute one to 48.
While the Spurs have had dominating frontcourts and post players from Artis Gilmore to the Robinson and Duncan era, it’s unlikely that there has been a group of intimidating bigs quite like the Bruise Brothers.
That is, until this coming season. Be sure to come back next week for what could be the next evolution, or Bruise Brothers 2.0. I can see Tim Duncan in a fedora already.