Mahone Delivers Song and Spurs Support
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 Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
There he stood at center court of the AT&T Center, a teen heartthrob in silver and black, belting out the national anthem before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
From light jersey and dark undershirt to matching pants and sneakers, 18-year-old Austin Mahone looked like a hard-core Spurs fan except for one perplexing detail: the two digits on his shirt.
No San Antonio player has ever worn No. 74. According to basketball-reference.com
So what’s up with 74?
“That was my jersey number when I played for Pop Warner,” Mahone said during halftime of the Spurs’ 110-95 victory over the Heat. “That was in 2007. We went all the way to nationals. So that’s my lucky number.”
Before Mahone began breaking hearts as a pop-singing sensation -- his videos have generated 400 million views on YouTube -- he was flattening running backs on the gridiron. “I played linebacker,” he said.
Linebacker? Mahone is built more like a receiver. He stands 5-foot-10 with lean arms and thin legs. Back in the day -- at age 11 -- Mahone insists he had a more muscled body. He played for a team called the “Grizzlies,” and they were ferocious.
Mahone remembers the run and big hits fondly. He also remembers San Antonio’s run to a fourth NBA championship. “That was in 2007,” he said. “It was a big year for all of us.”
You could say 2014 has been a big year for both. The Spurs are up 1-0 in the NBA Finals. Mahone’s newest EP, “The Secret,” debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200. On July 25, Mahone launches his second national tour at the Freeman Coliseum.
“It’s going to be a lot bigger and better than the first,” he said. “I’m going to have a bigger stage. I’m going to have more songs, lasers, smoke, dancing -- everything.”
He never saw pop stardom coming. Mahone’s lost his father before he turned 2. He grew up with his single mom in San Antonio and moved to La Vernia when she remarried. Looking for something to do, Mahone began making videos.
“My plan in the beginning was just to have fun,” he said. “I needed something to keep busy. So I started posting videos every day.”
He covered Jesse McCartney. He covered Justin Bieber. Mahone promoted his music through social networks. Two thousand followers turned into 200,000. The videos went viral.
Behind the bangs and voice that made girls swoon was a passion for the Spurs. As far back as he can remember, Mahone has cheered for the silver and black. “I grew up going to Spurs games,” he said.
Mahone has virtually no recall of the early championships but he has a vivid memory of his favorite player, Tim Duncan.
“I used to think Duncan was his nickname,” Mahone said, “because he was always dunking. I asked my grandad, ‘Why do they call him Duncan?’ He said, ‘Because that’s his name.’”
Before he posted his first video, Mahone posted pictures of the Spurs in his room. “I had each individual player as a poster,” he said, “and I lined them up by my bed. I had them all over my wall.”
His mother moved back to San Antonio and Mahone attended Johnson High briefly. The school paper wanted interviews. Girls wanted pictures. Boys wanted him to leave. An Internet star found himself in a sea of craziness.
Mahone moved to South Florida and became home-schooled. He signed a record deal. His fan base exploded. Then there he was, back home for Game 1, singing the Star-Spangled Banner.
“It felt amazing to be back in San Antonio,” he said after his performance. “I thought the energy and support were incredible.”
The crowd roared its approval. He got to promote his next tour. And the team he grew up cheering emerged with a 15-point victory. It was a good night for the kid in silver and black.