From One Generation To The Next

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday. >> En Espanol | Read more Ken Rodriguez Articles

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Garrett Temple
D. Clarke Evans/Getty
Garrett Temple is a rookie with a most unusual biography, a tiny scoring average in college that’s dwarfed by a big family story.

The Spurs don’t sign many shooting guards who average 6.7 points in four years of Division I ball. They also don’t sign many guys who can say their father once played for the silver and black. Only one player can make that claim – Garrett Temple.

Collis Temple Jr. played for the old ABA Spurs in 1974-75 and roomed with George Gervin on the road. Thirty five years later, Garrett completes the father-son circle after going undrafted out of LSU in June.

"I’m extremely proud," says Collis, 57. "He had to grind it out to get to the league."

Nobody wanted Garrett after he impressed more in the classroom – SEC Academic Honor Roll – than on the court. But he performed well enough in free agent tryouts to earn a cup of cappuccino in Sacramento. Then played well enough in the Development League to sign two, 10-day contracts with Houston before landing in San Antonio.

Garrett became a Spur the hard way – just like Collis, a third round draft pick – only the son had a much easier path than the father. Garrett didn’t have to break a color barrier to play at LSU. He didn’t have to deal with death threats. Or face a gun in the stands.

"He went through a lot," Garrett says. "Things we can’t imagine going through today."

The son of a high school principal and English teacher, Collis attended an all-black Louisiana school in the late 60s. He played on an integrated team as a senior – Britney Spears’ father, Jamie, was the only Anglo starter – and once, while visiting a rural school, encountered a racist behind the team bench. After Collis had scored about 20 points in the first half, a man yelled, "Hey boy," then lifted his shirt to reveal a holstered gun. A warning followed. If Collis shot the ball again, the man would shoot him after the game.

"So I made sure I passed the ball," Collis says.

Collis Temple
Collis Temple Jr
He showed so much talent as a senior, LSU asked him to become its first black basketball player. Collis accepted and soon began clashing with a student on campus who founded the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke.

"We’d meet in the free speech alley," Collis recalls. "It was a combination of debates, arguments and yelling matches."

Once, a professor called Collis the "n word." Some people used to shove hate mail under his dorm room door. A defining moment came against Vanderbilt on the road. Someone, state troopers informed Collis, planned to detonate a bomb or shoot him if he played.

Collis refused to be intimidated.. "But they wouldn’t let me warm up," Collis says. "I had a police escort to the game."

Once he left LSU and became a Spur, Collis joined an ABA fraternity that felt like family. Star players Gervin, James Silas and Rich Jones befriend him along with a guy they called "drumstick," George Karl. Collis recalls one locker room debate before a game against the New York Nets. Gervin and Jones, Collis says, argued over who would defend a certain young forward.

Not knowing anything about the player nicknamed "Doc," Collis volunteered to cover Julius Erving. "The first time he swooped past me," Collis says, laughing, "all I could see was the shoe size on the bottom of his feet."

The Spurs waived Collis after one season but the memories remain warm. He still chats and golfs with Gervin. Now here comes Garrett, who grew up in so many shadows. A trail-blazing father taught him the game. Then a gifted, older brother, Collis Temple III, starred at LSU.

Garrett lived among giants and some were his own age. He and power forward Tyrus Thomas of the Charlotte Bobcats played together as kids in Baton Rouge and then at LSU. Then there was 6-foot-9 Glenn "Big Baby" Davis of the Boston Celtics. Davis moved in with the Temples as a teenager and played with Garrett in high school and at LSU.

It was hard to stand out and the expectations were enormous. Now here is the son, slipping into a uniform his father once wore. Garrett can tell you so many stories about Collis Temple Jr. And this one makes him especially proud: The man who faced so much racism has devoted his life to helping others. Collis took in Davis who came from a broken home. Over the years, Collis and his wife took in so many others, Garrett has lost count.

Today, Collis runs a non-profit that provides housing for foster children and mentally disabled adults. "He's my hero," Garrett says.

Long ago, a father provided important basketball lessons, yes. But he also provided something else: a large pair of shoes a son wants to fill.