Branding the Bruise Brothers

By: Lorne Chan

Before Air Jordan and Lil’ Penny, an iconic Spurs image was formed from a shoe promotion.

It wasn’t Nike or Reebok, though. Instead, Kinney Shoes held a poster giveaway in December 1980 to advertise its 11 San Antonio locations.

The image was of the “Bruise Brothers,” the Spurs’ front line of six players who led the NBA in rebounds and blocked shots in 1980-81, and racked up plenty of personal fouls in the process.

When he was buying six fedoras, six ties and six pairs of sunglasses for the photo, Wayne Witt had no idea that the outcome would be a lasting moment in Spurs history.

The Bruise Brothers photo, along with a poster of George Gervin sitting on a throne of ice, are the most timeless images of Spurs players before the arrival of David Robinson in 1987.

 “We thought it was a decent poster at the time,” Witt said. “But we couldn’t have imagined it would resonate the way it did.”

Witt was the Spurs’ media director at the time, and fondly remembers the “Bruise Brothers” photo shoot 35 years later.

A San Antonio Express-News sportswriter coined the nickname, playing off the “Blues Brothers” movie that was a smash hit earlier in the summer. 

Dave Corzine, Paul Griffin, George Johnson, Reggie Johnson, Mark Olberding and Kevin Restani made up the Bruise Brothers, who helped the Spurs allow 10 fewer points per game than in the 1979-80 season.

The Bruise Brothers image was on a poster that went out to 10,000 fans and was later used as the cover of the Spurs’ 1981-82 media guide.

 “It was an easy way for us to highlight the strength of our team,” said Witt, who is currently the Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Communications at San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word. “It was the first time a group of Spurs were really branded like that.”

Witt chose Sunset Station as the setting, because it was only a mile from the Spurs’ home of Hemisfair Arena, and he figured an abandoned building would be easy to find there back then.

He painted “The Bruise Brothers” on a boarded-up door, put out a couple of empty boxes as props, and had the players drive over while dressed in their game jerseys and warm-up pants.

There was no permission to take the photo, and the shoot itself only took about a minute, Witt said.

“Every player was perfectly willing to go along with it,” Witt said. “We asked them to drive over, wear silly hats and look mean, and they all enjoyed themselves. We ended up with a perfect moment.”


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