Mark Burnett can't get over Victor Wembanyama. Well, he could, but it would be like taking a knife to the “Mona Lisa”.
Burnett, a San Antonio Spurs superfan, had Joe Barajas, a well-known local barber, shave Wembanyama's likeness to the side of his head just over a week ago. He, like nearly everyone in world basketball, expected the Spurs to pick the No. 1 Wembanyama. 1 overall in the NBA draft on Thursday.
“I wanted to show Victor something special that the city of San Antonio loves,” Burnett said at a draft night party at the Spurs' home arena, moments before San Antonio did pick Wembanyama, who had already shared a photo of Burnett on his Instagram account.
fanatic? Possible. But it also makes perfect sense, and not just because of the big promise of Wembanyama, the 19-year-old French basketball star. As San Antonio's only major professional sports franchise, the Spurs are the heart of the seventh largest city in the United States.
“I want to do the best I can in every aspect of the job,” Wembanyama said during his introductory press conference on Saturday in San Antonio. “The fans have been the best at their job. I can only hope to be at their level.”
However, that magic had recently been lost in River City. The Spurs haven't been to the playoffs in the last four seasons; they have done so every year since 1997, winning five championships. A dismal 2022-23 campaign, in which they tied the worst record in the Western Conference, provided a silver lining: tied for the best chance of receiving the No. 1 pick. Now they have Wembanyama.
“It's going to be a big boost for the economy,” said Aaron Peña, who owns two bars in San Antonio and plans to open again in two weeks. “We've planned to host not only the opening night party, but every Spurs game. It's going to be a party.”
For some business owners, the party has already started. Chip Ingram owns Roo Pub, an Australian-themed bar inspired by Patty Mills, the former Spurs guard from Australia. Ingram got a big crowd at his pub on May 16 after he announced that if the Spurs won the draft draw that night, he would take the tab. The night may have cost a lot of money, as the Spurs won, but Ingram said the highlights made it more than worth it.
Ingram has spruced up its menu with a “Wemby Burger” that includes foie gras and French onion strings. After a $1 promotion deal on draft night, the burger now costs $21.50 – a nod to Spurs legend Tim Duncan, who wore No. 21, and David Robinson, who wore No. 50. They are also the No. 1 pick.
Economic research casts doubt on the potential strength of the Wembanyama effect in San Antonio. A 2017 papers of Harvard University's Daniel Shoag and Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute found that LeBron James' return to Cleveland in 2014 increased the number of restaurants and other places to eat and drink close to the Cavaliers arena. But that wasn't the case in Miami when James joined the Heat in 2010, though he has had a significant impact on work close to arenas in both cities. Economist been arguing for a long time that professional sports franchises and their stadiums not much help local economy.
“I think people are going to go into the Spurs no matter what, but it brings a lot more attention to San Antonio,” said Julián Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio who was also President Barack's secretary of housing and urban development. Obama. “It gives the city a boost in terms of how much it is in the national spotlight. It raises the city's profile and visibility with people, and that's always good for business.”
Shea Serrano, a writer and television writer from San Antonio, never misses an opportunity to discuss the beloved Spurs. He said he “lost his mind” when the Spurs won the draft toss.
“It felt in the city at the time like we had won another championship,” he said.
Brandon Gayle, chief operating officer of the Spurs, said the team had seen a sharp increase in demand for season tickets – and from a younger and more diverse demographic than usual. San Antonio's population is approximately 66 percent Hispanic or Latino of any race and 23 percent white only, with less than 10 percent of residents identifying as Asian or Black/African American, according to the US Census Bureau. Gayle said the Spurs are looking to expand their reach further into Mexico and Austin, Texas, where the team has played several games in recent seasons.
From the opening of the Spurs arena, the AT&T Center, prior to the 2002-3 season through the 2018-19 season, the last time the team made the playoffs, San Antonio has always ranked in the upper half of NBA attendance. They have been in the bottom five the last two seasons
Carly Tovar represents the second generation of the three-generation Spurs family. He attended a draft night party with his young son, Mario Calderon, and his father, Ralph Tovar, who had started supporting the Spurs when the team moved from Dallas in the 1970s. The Spurs won their first title in 1999, when Carly was still in high school. Over his father's protests, he heads downtown to join in the celebrations, where fans walk down the freeway, honking their car horns in glee and drowning in the win over the Knicks.
“I came with David Robinson, Avery Johnson, and I can appreciate the next generation with Duncan and Robinson,” said Carly. “So now we can see it happen a third time.” He beckoned to his son.
Ralph agreed. “This is good for our city,” he said. “There is what we call la lumbre, fire.”
The new energy around the Spurs has transformed San Antonio, in the form of a striking Wembanyama tribute from a local artist. Oscar Alvarado, a tile mosaic artist who traces his family's San Antonio roots back nearly 300 years, built the Wembanyama piece 18 feet high out of steel and plywood. Colton Valentine created a larger-than-life mural of Wembanyama while placing two basketballs outside a bar in an artsy Southtown neighborhood, earning a visit from Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich. And Nik Soupe may be the most daring of all: He completed a mural of Wembanyama wearing a Spurs jersey nearly two months before the draft draw.
Some fans said Wembanyama's ability to produce a clean slate was clearly “unlike the Spurs”. Duncan is very reserved and rarely does interviews or commercials, like Kawhi Leonard, who helped the Spurs win their last championship, back in 2014.
But so far, Wembanyama has been in the spotlight. He beamed in a video on Instagram as hordes of fans greeted him after he landed in San Antonio on Friday.
“She should expect legions of little old women praying in the Catholic church for the Spurs to win,” said Castro, “and for her success to be celebrated by people like she was a member of their family. That's the level of enthusiasm and how personal a lot of people take it there.