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Art Garcia

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George Gervin was the epitome of cool to anyone growing up in San Antonio, Texas.
Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images

My favorite game: The Spurs retire the Iceman's jersey


Posted Oct 25 2010 2:03PM

Ice sat on my bedroom walls for more years than I can remember. George Gervin, legs crossed, silver warm-ups, "Ice" over his heart, silver basketball in each palm, throne of ice.

The poster became iconic in the years to come, perhaps the basketball equal of Farrah Fawcett. (Had that poster up, too, a few years earlier, but now I'm dating myself.) I wasn't trying to make some pop-culture statement with Gervin gracing my early-teen sanctum.

To me, Ice was just cool.

Born and raised in San Antonio, the Spurs were my team. As much as I rooted for players up and down the roster through my formative years -- Paul Silas, Johnny Moore, Mike Mitchell, Artis Gilmore, Gene Banks, the Bruise Brothers -- Gervin was my guy. He was our guy. San Antonio's brilliant, sub-zero star. I wore those hi-top Nikes of plain white with the black swoosh longer than what should have been physically possible.

Then he came along and flipped my basketball world over. Actually, everyone's. Michael Jordan changed the way I viewed the game. Yes, the finger roll remained my epitome of cool, but the tongue-waggling, ball-cradling, legs-flailing, gold chain-rocking fury of Jordan blew the walls off.

We bought Air Jordans. We held Slam Dunk contests on what must have been 7-foot rims. The Bulls became hip, even if they were years away from being contenders. I remember some basketball buds of mine being partial to Magic over Bird. Others the other way around. I can't remember anyone not placing MJ at the pinnacle of their hoops mountain.

I still remained a tried-and-true Spurs fanatic through this cultural shift, and Gervin remained my basketball icon. The Ice Age ended in San Antonio in 1985, as No. 44 was traded, ironically enough, to Chicago to play behind/mentor Jordan.

Gervin would drift out of the NBA after that season, spend the next in Italy, before retiring the finger roll in 1987. The Spurs didn't waste any time announcing the most significant jersey retirement in franchise history to that point.

The date: Dec. 5, 1987. The opponent: Jordan and the Bulls.

Really? Just six days shy of my birthday, I would have the chance to celebrate/honor my all-time favorite and witness Jordan's airborne acrobatics in the flesh. Sign me up.

As was my custom in those simpler days before bar codes and nosy ushers, I would buy cheap seats with my friends in the upper deck of old HemisFair Arena. We'd spend the first quarter scanning for empty pockets of seats down low and plot our path to superior vantage points.

That strategy wasn't going to fly for this special evening. I knew HemisFair would be chilled and filled, so whatever tickets I got, those would be my seats. I made my way downtown a few weeks before the game, purchasing two tickets along with a buddy in a section behind one of the baskets in what was considered obstructed view.

HemisFair had a number of concrete poles at both ends supporting the second deck. Gervin was the reason for the second deck -- his popularity helped convinced the city to "raise the roof" on HemisFair years before to increase capacity. So I felt these seats were appropriate. (Plus, we were assured by the ticket-window guy that our seats weren't behind a pole.)

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Art Garcia gets chills thinking about the night he saw the Spurs retire his hero's jersey.

I don't remember the records for either team at the time and, being early December, I'm sure the game didn't register on a national level. But in my little sports world, it was the Super Bowl, Game 7 of the World Series and, yes, the NBA Finals.

I bought a program -- still have it -- with Gervin on the cover in a powder blue Western Conference All-Star jersey. Not sure why such attire was chosen on the night his Spurs laundry would be lifted into the rafters, but oh well. Game on.

The night featured a proclamation from the mayor, speeches and, of course, a tear-jerking highlight video. The Spurs and Bulls gave their former teammate a standing ovation. A fellow Michigan native also known for his nickname taped a special message.

"I'm only the Magic Man because you taught me how to be the Magic Man," Earvin Johnson said with that trademark smile.

The game could not have played out any better with a Hollywood script. I've always remembered two stats from that night: Jordan scored 40, and the Spurs won 110-101. Looking back at the box score now, MJ was every bit the assassin I recalled. He ripped through the Spurs, nailing 15 of 22 shots. San Antonio won with a more collective effort, led by Johnny Dawkins' 20 points.

I can't think of another individual game that meant so much going in and delivered so much on the way out. Ice-Jordan-Spurs. Win-win-win.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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