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Spurs mark triumphant 50th anniversary celebration at Alamodome with NBA attendance record

A celebration three years in the planning culminates in an NBA record with 68,323 fans joining the Spurs' 50th anniversary celebration.

The Spurs broke an NBA record on Friday with 68,323 fans visiting the Alamodome, marking the largest crowd in regular-season history!

SAN ANTONIO — “Back Home in the Dome” signage greeted thousands trekking the labyrinth of stone walkways leading to the gates of the cavernous Alamodome.

Once inside, spectators found surprises seemingly around every corner.

While an NBA game unfolded below on what resembled a small, hardwood rectangle tucked neatly into a vast hollow, celebration drenched in nostalgia commenced everywhere else inside the building. San Antonio hosted its first NBA contest inside the Alamodome since leaving the venue after the 2001-02 season, falling 144-113 on Friday to the visiting Golden State Warriors while smashing the league’s all-time attendance record with 68,323 on hand for the occasion.

“The fans enjoyed themselves even though we were getting our [butts] kicked,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “They seemed to be having a hell of a time, so there must have been a lot of beer sales out there.”

Clearly, the result on the floor meant little, given the history and wistfulness created on a special night in which San Antonio successfully executed the cornerstone event of its season-long 50th anniversary celebration. The football-savvy fans in South Texas acknowledged as much in starting a gleeful stadium-circling wave with 10:32 left to play despite the home team trailing by 27.

The 94-by-50-foot wide dimensions of an NBA court dropped in the middle of a massive building configured to host football games don’t lend themselves to great sight lines for watching the action. The franchise knew that (that’s part of why it now plays at the AT&T Center), and so did the fans. But interest never waned in a game at the Alamodome, the team’s home arena when it captured its first title in 1999, and the venue where Hall of Famer Tim Duncan debuted in 1997, followed by eventual Finals MVP Tony Parker four years later.

The club announced it had sold 63,592 tickets on Wednesday, and then dropped news the next day that it would increase capacity at the Dome to 68,000 and release additional tickets for standing-room-only entry and single seats with limited views.

Michael C. Wright reports from the Alamodome explaining how the vibe built prior to the Spurs' record-setting night.

Fans gobbled up everything, and those standing-room-only tickets weren’t cheap at $199 apiece. In fact, even the Spurs assistant coaches couldn’t dig up comp tickets, which usually are plentiful.

So the fans in San Antonio showed up, making clear they wanted to be in the building to reminisce and play a role in making history more than they longed to watch a young, struggling team from less-than-ideal seats.

The organization, meanwhile, understood the assignment and showcased its rich history throughout the Dome, which on Friday was fully utilized. In the past, the club had cordoned off the court from the rest of an empty arena with a massive blue curtain that stretched from floor to ceiling.

Not this time, which is how San Antonio stuffed so many fans into the venue.

Just outside the field level floor entrance, fans stood in line outside the Northwest locker room for the “Spurs Locker Room Experience” which featured a tour of a replica locker room fashioned to mimic the team’s haunts during its tenure at the Alamodome (1993-2002).

Murals of former Spurs from the team’s 50 years plastered most of the walls in the concourse, with enough Popovich pictures scattered throughout the Dome to make the coach joke, “take ‘em down.” On one side of the Alamodome near the standing-room-only area that featured 20 cocktail tables and a pair of heavily-staffed bars, a parade-float-looking display showcased full-sized replicas of each of the team’s five championship trophies.

Alamodome attendants gladly offered to snap pictures for fans wanting to pose in front of the hardware.

Parker made the rounds before tipoff, greeting friends and fans alike, while Hall of Famer Manu Ginobili waved to crowd in the second quarter from a box once the Dome cameras showed his face on the scoreboard. Warriors coach Steve Kerr received a lengthy ovation from the crowd after a welcome-back video played highlights from his four seasons with the Spurs, which included the ’99 championship.

Avery Johnson greeted the crowd from center court in the second quarter after a tribute video and ovation.

Hall of Famer David Robinson, who once reeled off a quadruple-double in the Alamodome, addressed the fans just before the start of the fourth quarter to make the official announcement that San Antonio shattered the all-time attendance record.

“Just being in the dome, last night, we had a glass of wine and connected with some of the old players: Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson, some of the coaches,” Kerr said. “[Spurs CEO] R.C. Buford was there, family members. The Spurs I think are the best team I’ve ever seen in terms of staying engaged with their former players and really creating an environment that makes everyone proud to have been a part of the franchise.”

San Antonio did the same on Friday for the fans in attendance.

The franchise’s historic night took nearly three years to plan, according to Casey Heverling, senior vice president of facilities and general manager of the AT&T Center. While tossing around ideas about how to honor the franchise’s 50th anniversary, someone in a brainstorming meeting asked, “Well, what is the all-time attendance record for the NBA?”

“We did some quick research and came up with the idea to host the game here and try to break that record,” Heverling said.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, over the next three years, the Spurs worked with their own staff at the AT&T Center on the operations side, as well as the host Alamodome before eventually pulling in the NBA, which had to approve the venue by making sure it was up to league specs. Throughout the process, the team needed to move its floor, and ship in special basketball hoops and scoring systems that arrived from all over the world, including some leftover equipment and technology from the team’s Mexico City game played back in December.

They built custom risers, décor and signage, as well.

Perhaps the most difficult challenge involved building the technology required to tap into the NBA’s private networks.

“These days, everything is on a network over the Internet, WiFi, all of that,” Heverling said. “Generally speaking, there is a 100% kind of private, protected network that incorporates all of the basketball arenas the NBA plays in, including this one now. We had to make sure we could introduce that network here because it goes right back to the NBA headquarters in Secaucus, N.J.

“So, that thing: the scoring, the timing, the stats, the broadcast even, everything plugs into that secure network. So that was a big hurdle of figuring out how to patch into that from a building that normally doesn’t do that.”

Some of the major pieces of equipment arrived at the Dome last Friday, and by Sunday the crew was installing the auxiliary lighting, sound equipment and technology, “working around the clock” to properly prepare the Alamodome to be ready Friday when doors opened at 4:30 p.m. CST.

Heverling contends “it’s not an overstatement to say that thousands of man hours have gone into the planning and execution of this event.”

The hard work showed. The record has been set.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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