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Spurs Fans Welcome Champions Home

June 26, 1999

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ The San Antonio Spurs came home Saturday to share their NBA championship trophy with a city formerly starved for a winner.

The Spurs won their first NBA title in the franchise’s 26-year history, beating the New York Knicks four games to one in the finals. San Antonio clinched the series with a 78-77 victory Friday night that touched off a downtown celebration fans had ached for.

That the Spurs won the series in New York’s Madison Square Garden instead of the Alamodome mattered little to the thousands of fans who greeted the team’s arrival by plane at San Antonio International Airport just before 4:30 p.m. EDT.

Nor did it matter that the championship capped a lockout-shortened season in which the league was often criticized for sloppy play.

``It’s about showing that nice guys do finish first. Hopefully, this is the start of a dynasty. There’s a lot of pride with this. It’s as important as the Alamo,″ said fan Frank Cassiano. ``Remember the Alamo! Remember the Spurs!″

City merchants could not agree more. Downtown stores were fully stocked with Spurs championship T-shirts and congratulatory banners hung in shop windows.

The Spurs returned the appreciation with a full-page add in the San Antonio Express-News, thanking the fans for their support.

Police measured some of that support at more than 12,000 fans strong when the team arrived Saturday.

About two hours before the team’s arrival, 3,000 fans were already waiting to greet the team on the tarmac. The throng happily withstood a slight drizzle, cheering and mugging for the TV cameras long before the Spurs touched down. Later, fire trucks sprayed the crowd with water to take a little edge off the 88-degree heat and high humidity.

Marla Hargrave said she dropped her season tickets in part because of the lockout. But, there she was Saturday, among the early celebrants at the airport.

``As soon as the season started, we were back with them,″ she said. ``Everybody know the lockout was about business. We love the Spurs.″

The postgame victory celebration lasted into the early hours Saturday as thousands of fans poured onto downtown streets. Unlike other cities where sports celebrations have turned violent, San Antonio police reported no major incidents.

In a decade of repeat champions _ the Chicago Bulls and Houston Rockets won eight titles between them in the 1990s _ talk had already started of the Spurs defending their title.

``(Winning) shuts up the critics who said they were too soft and could not win the championship. We’re going to do it again,″ fan Mike Moreno said.

The Spurs moved to the city in 1973 from Dallas as part of the American Basketball Association. The team merged into the NBA in 1976 and had never before advanced to the championship round.

The city’s celebrations were scheduled to continue Sunday with a downtown parade and a pep rally at the Alamodome.