SAN ANTONIO -- The San Antonio Spurs came home Saturday to share their NBA championship trophy with a city starved for a winner.
The Spurs won their first NBA title in the franchise's 26-year history, beating the New York Knicks in five games in the finals. San Antonio clinched the series with a 78-77 victory Friday night that touched off a downtown celebration for which fans had ached.That the Spurs won the series in New York's Madison Square Garden instead of the Alamodome mattered little to the thousands who greeted the team's plane at San Antonio International Airport Saturday afternoon.
Nor did it matter that the championship capped a lockout-shortened season in which the league was often criticized for sloppy play.
"It's about showing that nice guys do finish first. Hopefully, this is the start of a dynasty. There's a lot of pride with this. It's as important as the Alamo," fan Frank Cassiano said. "Remember the Alamo! Remember the Spurs!"
City merchants agreed. Downtown stores were fully stocked with Spurs championship T-shirts, and congratulatory banners hung in shop windows.
The Spurs returned the appreciation with a full-page ad in the San Antonio Express-News thanking fans for their support.
Police measured some of that support at more than 12,000 fans strong when the team arrived Saturday.
The crowd alternated between chanting "Go, Spurs, Go!" and singing Queen's "We Are The Champions" as the plane taxied onto the runway and pulled up to the gate.
Guard Avery Johnson, who hit the winning shot, was the first to emerge from the plane holding the gold NBA Championship trophy over his head.
Center David Robinson was right behind, and carried the trophy to a makeshift stage and thrust it over his head before passing it down so that fans could touch it.
"It's good to be home. You deserve this championship, San Antonio, you deserve this!" Robinson exclaimed. "We worked so hard to get here. I waited 10 years, the city waited 26."
Johnson said he has yet to settle down from his championship-winning shot with 47 seconds left in the game.
"My heart is beating a thousand times a minute," he told the crowd, who greeted him with chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!"
"This is for people who make $12,000 a year and have been Spurs fans forever. This is about everybody in San Antonio, it's not just about us," Johnson said.
Just as he had immediately after the game Friday, Tim Duncan recorded the celebration on a video camera. Guard Steve Kerr, who won three championships with the Chicago Bulls, said post-game celebrations are becoming old hat.
"This is getting old for me," Kerr joked. "Thank you. This is a thrill for me. I feel like it just landed in my lap."
The team made only a 15-minute appearance before leaving in three team buses.
About two hours before the team's arrival, 3,000 fans were already waiting to greet the team on the tarmac. The throng happily withstood a slight drizzle, cheering and mugging for TV cameras.