SAN ANTONIO (AP) — San Antonio businessman Roland Ramirez predicted the outcome of the NBA draft lottery months before Commissioner Adam Silver announced the Spurs had won the No. 1 pick.
Ramirez believes it was fate that Victor Wembanyama is on his way to San Antonio as the first overall draft pick.
As the Denver Nuggets continue to celebrate their first NBA championship, fans in San Antonio are counting the days until the 7-foot-3 French phenom officially joins the Spurs. Sure, San Antonio’s front office is doing its due diligence and interviewing other players, but Wembanyama is the unquestioned No. 1 pick on June 22.
Ramirez was so sure of San Antonio’s lottery hopes that he put pen to paper. Well, paint to canvas.
The owner of Rudy’s Seafood restaurant, Ramirez had local artist Nik Soupe paint a mural of Wembanyama in a Spurs uniform at the entrance of his restaurant near downtown, about eight miles from the team’s home arena. Ramirez did so. In March. While the season was still taking place. Even when the Spurs were not guaranteed a top three pick.
“Everybody says I brought good luck to them,” Ramirez said. “A few people were telling me, maybe you jinxed them. I said, ‘It’s either going to give us good luck or jinx them.’”
It was wondrous luck for a franchise and fan base that has never gotten over Kawhi Leonard’s departure. Leonard was supposed to bridge the championship-winning dominance of the Spurs’ Big Three — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — to a new era of prosperity. Instead, Leonard demanded and was granted a trade on July 18, 2018.
After matching a league record of 22 straight playoff appearances, San Antonio has not made the postseason the last four seasons, the longest drought in the franchise’s 50-year history.
Now, the San Antonio Spurs have won the right to draft a transformative player with the No. 1 pick for the third time in franchise history.
Spurs fans haven’t stopped celebrating since Silver’s announcement May 17.
“I was like, babe, let’s go downtown! Let’s go honking,” Jenna Villanueva told her boyfriend, Moses Montalvo.
Fans circling downtown honking their car horns is a San Antonio tradition normally reserved for winning a championship, but Wembanyama’s talent has reinvigorated those title hopes. He is widely regarded as a generational talent, a mobile, ballhandling big man who can shoot like a wing with 3-point range and still provide a strong inside presence.
All of which is why Ramirez had no doubt Wembanyama would be in a Spurs uniform. After all, Wembanyama seems a natural addition to the lineage of a franchise that used it’s previous No. 1 picks on big men David Robinson in 1987 and Duncan in 1997.
Robinson and Duncan led the Spurs to their first championships in 1999 and 2003. Duncan later teamed with Parker and Ginobili to win titles in 2005, 2007 and 2014.
Now with Wembanyama, the Spurs’ slogan of “Go Spurs Go” has unofficially been replaced with “Spurs Are Back” by their fans. San Antonio sold 2,500 season ticket packages in the first 24 hours after the lottery. Four days later, more than 3,000 fans showed up at the AT&T Center for a “Select-A-Seat” event to choose their season tickets.
Mary Vasquez and Patricia Gabriel were among them. They has wasted no time in buying season tickets.
“Boom. Right away,” Vasquez said. “It was like a busy signal, busy signal. ‘Hurry up! Get off the line!’”
Attendance has dropped from 18,415 in the team’s final championship season of 2014 to 16,937 this past season as the Spurs finished with the second-worst record in franchise history at 22-60. No one is sure when, but they are all predicting far better results soon enough.
Vasquez was a season ticket holder a decade before, but Gabriel purchased them for the first time as did Villanueva and Montalvo after the top pick was locked down.
“That kind of sealed the deal,” said Villanueva, who is having the couple’s first child Aug. 30.
“It’s always been up in the air because of our work schedules and stuff, but after that we were, ‘No, we’ll make time. We’re going to make time,’” Montalvo said.
That is the Wembanyama effect.
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Boulogne-Levallois’ Victor Wembanyama shoots during the Elite basketball match Boulogne-Levallois against Paris at the Palais de Sports Marcel Cerdan stadium in Levallois-Perret, outside Paris, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. Wembanyam is projected to be the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA draft. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)