Dedicated Fan Has Car, Will Travel

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.

>> Read more Ken Rodriguez Articles | Contact Ken

If Hector Noyola isn’t the most devoted Spurs fan in South Texas, he sure drives like it. On game day, he covers 320 round trip miles to watch Tim Duncan and Co. at the AT&T Center. Noyola doesn’t make the trek from his Laredo home once or twice a year. He attends every preseason, regular season and post-season contest in San Antonio.

In 2009-10, that worked out to 50 games and 16,000 miles. At age 66, he does not plan to cut back or slow down. The long-distance trip with fellow fans invigorates him. "The Spurs," Noyola says, "are our passion."

That passion spans decades. Noyola began commuting from Laredo before Tim Duncan gave up swimming for basketball, before David Robinson made his first NBA dunk, before DeJuan Blair emerged from the womb. Noyola became a season-ticket holder the year Larry Brown began coaching the Spurs – 1988.

Talk about road wear. Noyola has logged enough miles to complete a dozen trips around the world. If he said, "I’d go to the moon for the Spurs," that might be an understatement. The lunar surface is roughly 240,000 miles from Earth. Noyola has covered more than 300,000.

Have car, will travel. It’s been that way since the Reagan White House. In his second year as a season-ticket holder, Noyola would pull up to his son’s Catholic school on game day around 3:15 p.m. Then Hector Noyola Jr. -- “Hecky" to his friends -- would climb in with his books and off they’d go...until they returned home after 1 a.m. "Hecky would do his homework on the way to the game," his father says, "and he’d sleep on the way back."

Hecky didn’t simply go for the ride. He served as a Spurs’ ball boy from 1989 through 1994, from fourth through eighth grade. That meant working the visitors locker room and grabbing towels and drinks for players, such as Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. That also meant grabbing rebounds during pre-game warmups for a legendary Boston Celtic.

"I remember once, after the game, Larry Bird inviting me to the team bus and giving me his game shirt," Hecky says.

A writer for Sports Illustrated Kids happened to be at that game and interviewed Hecky. When the issue hit the stands, Hecky found his name in the piece.

The former ballboy became more than a fan. He became a player, a student of the game who attended clinics in the Valley with a couple of young assistant Spurs coaches, Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford. "That was great," Hecky says.

The kid learned a thing or two. He made the Laredo Martin High School varsity as a freshman. He led the state in scoring as a senior, averaging 31 points a game. He played college ball, first at The University of Texas at Arlington, then at Lane College, where he became the first Hispanic to play in the historically black Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

In 2001, The Laredo Times named Hecky one of the city’s Top 100 athletes of the Century. Today, he coaches the varsity basketball team at his alma mater, Martin High. Hecky credits his father for much of his success. But he also remains grateful to Pop and R.C. "They treated me like a son," Hecky says. "They planted the seed for me to want to pursue a career in basketball."

Dad is proud of his son. He’s also proud of the explosion of basketball interest in Laredo. The city boasts 68 Spurs season-ticket holders, one of the largest contingents in the state. Hector has two charter seats he shares with friends and family. "Laredo is considered a ‘little San Antonio,’" he says. "We’re all Spurs fans.”

Hector has sparked some of that interest himself. As executive director of the Laredo Boys and Girls Club since 1972, Hector has introduced thousands of children to basketball. His son began playing for the Boys and Girls Club at age 4. Countless others have started just as young.

Over the years, Avery Johnson, Sean Elliott and George Hill have conducted clinics for Hector in Laredo. Pop and R.C. continue to visit. And the Spurs hold an annual “Laredo Boys and Girls Club” night at the AT&T Center. “We average over 1,000 tickets sold every year for that event,” Hector says.

The Spurs, he explains, are role models for the youth of Laredo. At an early age, kids want to become pro players. Then they learn they need to go to college first. “So they have goals,” he says, “and Laredo basketball is getting better and better every year.”

Hector mentors youth, sometimes with a whistle and a clipboard. He coaches a third grade boys basketball team that won a national tournament in Las Vegas. And he’s built so much youth interest in hoops, Laredo boasts more than 500 kindergarten-through fifth grade basketball teams. “We have the biggest elementary school basketball league in the nation,” he says.

Youth organizer. Basketball coach. Hoops junkie. Boys and Girls club director. Hector wears many hats, including one that’s colored silver and black. He says it’s been a busy summer in Laredo, but now he’s ready to hit the road.

“I’m looking forward to another championship,” Hector says. “No. 5 is on the way.”