By Brian Taylor
In the early 90’s, the “B.T.” (Before Tim) San Antonio Spurs were more or less recognized by two outstanding players. One was “the Admiral”, David Robinson, and the other was a smooth shooting swingman, one Sean Michael Elliott. Before Duncan took the “big man’s torch” from David, the San Antonio Spurs were always in the playoff hunt, and known for being a group of character guys who played hard, and no one exemplified this more than Elliott.
Coming out of the U of A in the 1989 Draft (which featured Glen Rice and Pervis Ellison), the 6’8” Elliott brought his extra smooth game to the Riverwalk where he helped the Spurs go from a team building around a single piece (Robinson) to a well balanced, playoff team. Back in the day, even after the Spurs recruited the Admiral, San Antone looked bleak during playoff time, either getting dismissed by Showtime, or becoming lottery bound. When Sean came on board, he gave the Spurs an extra weapon to give his squad that inside-outside combo that all championship teams need.
Think about it, Boston had Parish/McHale with Bird as the kickout, the Bad Boys had Laimbeer and Rodman down low, while Zeke and Dumars made it rain, and the Spurs were no exception. As a matter of fact, when it came to getting buckets in the clutch, there was a time when no one could touch Sean Elliott. Today, you’d compare him to a more muscular Rip Hamilton.
Many people tend to forget that Sean actually spent a year in Detroit, where he averaged a modest 12ppg. With the Detroit experiment gone wrong, Elliott made his way back to where it all started, near the Alamo. Once he was back in Texas, Sean never looked back, and in 1999 it all paid off. But it wasn’t easy.
In what is now being dubbed the “Memorial Day Miracle”, Sean Elliott pulled off one of the most amazing shots in basketball history. Game 2 of the 1999 Western Conference Finals pitted Sean’s boys against the Portland TrailBlazers (the pre-delinquent version). With his squad down 85-83 (they were getting whooped the whole game and brought it back towards the end), San Antonio had only 12 ticks to pull something, anything out of this one. After getting a screen from the Admiral, Sean had to pull a plastic man routine to snatch a lazy pass from Portland’s Stacey Augmon. While falling out of bounds, but keeping his feet in (a la an NFL receiver) Sean elevated and threw up a three over Rasheed Wallace that hit nothing but net, giving the “silver and black” (the Raiders have lost the right to use that as their nickname) their first lead of the game, the win, and a 2-0 series lead. San Antone went on the get their first Larry O’Brien, at the expense of the Sprewell/Houston Knicks.
But that wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg for Sean, as it had been revealed that after the Finals, Elliott was playing sick with a kidney ailment, focal segmental glomerular sclerosis. It was as bad as it sounded, and Sean needed a transplant, the trouble is, donors are hard to find, and in one of sports most courageous stories, Sean’s brother Noel, stepped up to the plate and donated his own kidney to his All-Star brother. Sean went on to play another year and became the first pro-athlete ever to come back from a kidney transplant. When Alonzo Mourning went through his ailment, he received a lot of advice from Sean.
Sean hung em’ up for good in 2001, and in 2005, despite that year in Motown, the Spurs returned the favor and hung up the #32 for good to honor him.
Elliott is pretty visible these days, with facetime on ESPN, NBA on ABC and with the Spurs broadcasts. Hit this link to re-live the “Memorial Day Miracle”.