SAN ANTONIO – The diehards started lining up at the AT&T Center as early as 3 a.m. Saturday. Six hours later, long lines snaked around the building.
It was only the last day of September, but it could have been playoff time in May. Such is the devotion of Spurs fans.
By the time the team’s Silver and Black scrimmage started at 11 a.m., most of the seating in the lower half of the AT&T Center was filled. The event was open to the public and admission was free. With seating was on a first-come, first-served basis, fans clamored to be as close to the action on the court as possible.
As they waited for the doors to open, fans hardly could wait to get their first look at the Spurs, who started training camp Tuesday.
Jason Torres, 32, was the first person in one line after taking his place at 3 a.m.
“Trying to get floor seats, absolutely,” he said, smiling.
So, what else motivated Torres to cut short his slumber to get in line to watch a scrimmage?
“I think it has to do with the family atmosphere when it comes to the Spurs,” said Torres, an Air Force veteran who is originally from New York. “The city bleeds silver and black. I fell in love with that.”
Torres expressed confidence that the Silver and Black will remain among the league’s elite despite the talent the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder acquired in the offseason.
All-Star guard Chris Paul left the Los Angeles Clippers to sign with Houston, and OKC added two other All-Stars, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, to their roster.
“I think Kawhi Leonard is all of those guys put together in one,” Torres said. “I think he can pull us through, and we’ve got a good supporting cast. And we have a deep bench. That’s always been our strong point, so I think we’ll be great.”
Dianne Hollera, 27, was second in Torres’ line. She arrived at 4 a.m.
“I agree with what he said,” Hollera said, referring to Torres. “It’s a family atmosphere. I love the way they play. The are so synchronized and they watch out for each other, and I love seeing that. It’s so inspiring. It’s not about one guy. It’s about the whole team.”
Leonardo Casarez Jr., 12, said he arrived at the AT&T Center at 5 a.m. with his father and two cousins. He was looking forward to seeing his favorite player, Kawhi Leonard, but Leonard did not play in the scrimmage because he is rehabbing from a quadriceps injury that has hindered him since last season.
The Spurs announced Saturday that Leonard, a finalist for the NBA’s MVP award last season, could miss the entire preseason.
Leonard Casarez Sr. 35, chuckled when he was asked what the early birds did to pass the time.
“We talked and talked about the Spurs, and how the season is going to end up,” Casarez Sr. said. “Of course, I want to see what we have, what the cast looks like.”
Bonnie Arredondo, 41, arrived at the AT&T Center at 5:45 a.m.
“I already knew people were going to be here early,” she said. “I like the Spurs because they’re a team and not an individual. They play as a team, and they help the city as one. San Antonio is a family, not just the team.”
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat back and watched the scrimmage, leaving assistants Becky Hammon and Will Hardy to do the coaching.
The Silver team, which included Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills and Rudy Gay, beat the Black squad 63-58. LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green, Dejounte Murray were among the players on the Black team. A running clock was kept, which explains the low score.
“It’s fun,” Popovich said of the scrimmage. “Watching Will and Becky coach and not caring who won or lost, that’s always fun. It’s fun looking at the young kids at the beginning of the season and seeing how people grow. Everybody has great expectations, so it’s a real joy at this time of year.”
Told after the scrimmage that some fans were in line as early as 3 a.m., Popovich said, “Really? I knew we had great fans. I’ve been here a long time, and so I’ve witnessed a lot, but 3 a.m., I didn’t know that. That’s a new one.
“You could tell how excited they were. They know all the guys’ games, all the new guys already. Their support has always been important for us and we really respect it.”
The Spurs finished with the second-best record (61-21) in the NBA last season, and were swept by the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. The Silver and Black open their season against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 18 at the AT&T Center.