Remembering San Antonio’s only NBA All-Star Weekend

In just a few short days, the NBA All-Star game makes its return back to Texas. But 14 years ago, the NBA made San Antonio its stage.

1996 NBA All-StarI was a senior at Fox Tech High School in Downtown San Antonio at the time and it was as if my dreams came true.

Since I was about 10 years old, it’s been my yearly ritual to set aside my entire weekend for All-Star Weekend. It’s one of my favorite times of the year and it also usually lands around my birthday so I was always able to get away with being a couch potato for the entire weekend.

I always got home from school on Friday with plenty of time to carve my spot out on our living room couch and hopefully before everyone else so I could take control of the tv and remote for that night. I watched whatever All-Star programming the NBA had for me, whether it was the rookie game, legends game, celebrity game. It didn’t matter, I was watching it.

On Saturdays, I woke up early to watch Inside Stuff and the NBA Jam Session and prepared for the night’s festivities by begging for pizza. My parents usually obliged and I sat with eyes wide open as I consumed all of All-Star Saturday night and made bets with my brothers on who would win each event.

Then on Sunday, to end it all, I watched every minute of the All-Star Game, including pregame and post game. I remember one year I did something stupid and my parents punished me, taking away my television privileges the day of the all-star game. I told my Mom a few years ago that on that day I went to my room, closed the door, put my small 12-inch tv on the floor and watched the game laying on the floor with the volume turned almost all the way down. That was the year Magic and Isiah had an epic battle and it was also Magic’s last All-Star game.

That’s been my ritual now for about 22 years, going on 23 this weekend. Yes I know it sounds pitiful, but what can I say, I love the game.

So in 1996 I hear that All-Star weekend is coming to San Antonio and I’m ecstatic. While I would love to go to the game or even the Saturday night festivities, I know it’s unrealistic. My dad was in and out of the hospital and what I didn’t know then was that this was just four months before he passed away. My mom also left her job so she could take care of my dad and the last thing I expected was to have the money to go to any of the events and see all of the NBA stars.

But I got lucky the Friday of All-Star Weekend. The stars came to me.

It had been announced that morning that there would be a special presentation and one of the Spurs players would be in attendance. Only juniors and seniors could attend so I was set.

When we got into the auditorium and the emcee introduced Sean Elliott, I couldn’t believe my luck. Sean Elliott was my favorite player and I had just seen him up close once. It was at an NBA Draft Party where he signed my rookie card. When he asked me how I was doing I froze and somehow got the word “okay” out.

So Sean spoke and I listened while I thanked my lucky stars. I was happy enough with Sean, but then he said “well, I don’t want to take up too much of your time, let me let the real stars speak.”

Following Sean were Vin Baker and Scottie Pippen. David Robinson’s parents, Ambrose and Freda, closed out the event with a motivational speech. I left that assembly on such a high. I could not wait to see the players play at the All-Star game on tv and point to them and say that I got to see them up close.

As soon as school ended that Friday, my best friend and I walked through Downtown to get to the area around the Alamodome. All of the games were being played inside the Alamodome, but there were several smaller events being played in the area, where basketball courts had been erected. We got to watch a lot of the action, and stand outside of the Alamodome, then stand outside of where the Jam Session was going to be and just take in the atmosphere. It wasn’t like we were new to San Antonio, but it just felt special. Maybe it was knowing media from all over the country were in town, or that so many NBA players were around, or just seeing all of the All-Star banners and posters hung around downtown and on the lamp posts. I don’t think I got home until past 10 p.m. That was probably one of the only times I missed watching all of the Friday night events, but it was worth it.

The next morning, of course I caught Inside Stuff and got to see Ahmad Rashad and Willow Bay with my hometown as the backdrop. It was really cool to see all the b-roll footage of San Antonio. That morning I also got a call from my eldest brother, Anthony, who said he was taking my nephew to the Jam Session and asked if I wanted to go. I probably responded with “hell yea I want to go.”

So my brother, my nephew and I headed off for the convention center. After we parked and crossed the steet, a limo stopped right in front of us and we saw Rasheed Wallace, just feet from us, get escorted in.

My brother paid for our tickets and off we went. I was 18 years old at the time, but I wasn’t too old to have the time of my life. We played just about every game, I stood in David Robinsons’s footprints and stood next to a cutout of Michael Jordan. I even stopped at a both set up with a mic and a bunch of tvs to see if I could do play-by-play for a recorded game. I didn’t do so well. Who would know then that I would be doing a weekly Spurs podcast and monthly NBA podcast now.

We spent probably a good four hours at the Jam Session. I must’ve spent an hour of it in the basketball card exhibition, looking to beef up my collection with more Spurs players. I ended up with another Sean Elliott card, two Cory Alexander rookie cards, a Doc Rivers card and a David Robinson card. I still have those cards to this day with the rest of my childhood sports card collection in a large tub in my garage.

I can’t remember how many times I thanked my brother for taking me but it wasn’t enough. That’s one of my fondest memories in what amounted to a very hard year in my life. That day I got to be be a kid again and not have a single worry. After the Jam Session, we walked around downtown a bit to soak up a bit more of the atmosphere and check out some of the events. Planet Hollywood was opening so we went and stood outside with my nephew on my brothers shoulders as we took in a live concert with none other than Bruce Willis singing.

Brent BarryWe got home in time for all of the Saturday night festivities, and in enough time for me to be outraged that some dude named Brent Barry did the same dunk twice to win the dunk contest. I understood that it was special that he was the only caucasian to ever win the dunk contest, but I thought there were more creative dunks that weren’t repeated. Of course, when he became a Spur several years ago, I forgave him.

The All-Star game closed out an awesome weekend for me, even though I wanted to vomit when I saw the jerseys some San Antonio marketing agency came up with to represent the city. Seriously, a jalapeño with a basketball on the end with the ugliest colors ever and some weird triangle pattern for the trim. I wondered if maybe they let kids at some middle school draw costumes and the winner got to have their design used for the official jerseys. I’ll never forget that, but I digress.

JordanI loved watching my hometown guys, David Robinson and Sean Elliott, playing in the All-Star game and holding their own. I thought David Robinson deserved the MVP that year no matter what Shaq did to him, and not just because it was his hometown. Michael Jordan, the eventual MVP, had 20 points and four rebounds. Robinson had a more complete game with 18 points, 11 rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals. If Robinson wasn’t going to get it, then Shaq, as much as it pains me to say it, should have won it.

My West team ended up losing to the East 118-129, but I still loved watching the game and I was proud hearing that it was the largest crowd in All-Star game history, with 36,037 in attendance.

That weekend was special for me, and it was special for San Antonio. 14 years has been too long to wait, and I hope that the NBA will bring it back to San Antonio soon. Then, nothing will stop me from taking it all in, hopefully this time from the AT&T Center.

But for now, I’ll be more than happy to set part of my weekend aside to watch it all from someone’s couch. Maybe now that I’m turning 33 and not 18, I’ll choose something a little more nutritious than pizza for my game meal. Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll take a half cheese, half pepperoni lovers thin and crispy. Care to join me?

About Michael A. De Leon

Michael founded Project Spurs in 2004. He started The Spurscast, the first Spurs podcast on the Internet, in 2005. Michael has been interviewed by the BBC, SportTalk, the Sports Reporters Radio Show, MemphisSportLive, OKC Sports Wrap and ESPN radio among others. He is a credentialed member of the media for the San Antonio Spurs and Austin Toros. He is also the founder of Project Spurs' sister sites, Toros Nation and Stars Hoops.

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