Earl Foreman’s finances are dire after the 1972-73 season. He has one of the best rosters in either professional basketball league, but can’t afford to keep it together. He has no shortage of offers. The New York Nets want superstar Julius Erving. And San Antonio won’t stop pestering him over starting center Swen Nater. And, more importantly, a young backup named George Gervin. But Foreman just doesn’t feel right depriving the state of Virginia of such talent. So he sells the team to a more financially stable group and leaves the ABA altogether. That decision changes professional basketball forever.
Gervin explodes onto the season a year later. Paired with Erving, the Squires win the final three ABA championships with relative ease. Despite their small market status, when the NBA-ABA merger comes along in 1976 there’s not even a thought of contracting Virginia. They make the jump to the NBA’s Eastern Conference along with the New York Nets while Indiana and Denver head to the Western Conference.
The 1977 Finals ends up being a sportswriter’s dream. Virginia wins the East representing the old ABA. And Bill Walton (who had previously spurned the ABA’s Los Angeles Stars) carries the Portland Trailblazers to the Western Conference title to represent the old NBA. The Finals goes the full seven games, with the Squires eventually winning. Thus proving once and for all that the ABA was just as good as the NBA.
But things aren’t quite so harmonious in Virginia after that. Erving’s contract has expired and he wants to play in a big market. Many in the organization wonder if they’d just be better off handing the keys to the team over to Gervin anyway. So they start listening to the other teams who want Doctor J.
The Knicks offer an aging Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe. Philadelphia tells the Squires they can have George McGinnis and any two other players on their roster. The Lakers say the same with Cazzie Russell. But the champion Squires want to stay on top. To do that, they’ll need a younger big man to anchor their defense while Gervin takes care of the scoring. So they deal Erving and Nater to the Chicago Bulls for fellow ABA alum Artis Gilmore and defensive stalwart Norm Van Lier.
Nater isn’t Gilmore because nobody can be, but the Bulls are thrilled with the production of rookie Norm Nixon as Van Lier’s replacement. He isn’t ready to lead Chicago past Virginia in 1978. Instead, the Squires repeat to win their second straight NBA championship (and fifth straight overall). But Chicago does finally topple Virginia in 1979, going on to beat Seattle to win the franchise’s first championship.
The Bulls make it back to the Finals in 1980 but lose to Magic Johnson’s Lakers. From there, both teams settle into their role as just another franchise. The Lakers and Celtics control the early part of the decade while Michael Jordan’s Dallas Mavericks start to take over by the end of it. Virginia doesn’t get back to the Finals until 1999, when second-year stud Tim Duncan leads them there along with David Robinson.
There are talks throughout the years to get a team in San Antonio, but the state of Texas falls so head over heels in love with Jordan that the league ultimately decides that the city couldn’t build a big enough fan base. They come close in the mid-90s, but ultimately Jordan’s shadow looms too large over San Antonio. Thus, the Oklahoma City Spurs are born.
San Antonio finally breaks through in 2007, when Peter Holt buys the Seattle Supersonics and moves them to the city. The San Antonio Thunder play their first game in 2008, and with high draft picks like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they should give Texas a new basketball dynasty to replace Jordan’s.