WHO: The San Antonio Spurs, Manu Ginóbili, and the people of Uvalde.
WHAT: An afternoon of basketball and togetherness.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: On Saturday, the Spurs moved their practice about eighty miles southwest of their usual facility—to the Uvalde High School gymnasium, where, in addition to prepping for the start of the NBA season, the team played hoops with students and tossed out T-shirts.
Coach Gregg Popovich, of course, is perhaps the most recognizable member of the Spurs’ organization these days, as the league’s longest-tenured head coach—and he arrived in Uvalde with his trademark curmudgeon-with-a-heart-of-gold persona intact. His goal in making the trip, he said through the team’s front office, was “to show the residents that their pain has not been forgotten,” even as attention, in the state and the nation, has shifted away from the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School.
What did it mean to the folks in Uvalde to have the Spurs in town? One telling anecdote comes via NBA.com, about a fourth grader from Robb who was hiding in a classroom across the hallway from the rooms where the massacre took place. Her mother, Monica Flores, explained that her daughter attended the event and was delighted to learn that, in addition to a visit from a roster full of young talent and fresh faces, the Spurs were joined by one of the franchise’s retired legends—and her daughter’s favorite player—Manu Ginóbili. (The team’s coyote mascot also made the trip.)
Flores’s daughter wore her number 20 Ginóbili jersey to the gym that day, and upon spotting the newly minted Hall of Famer at mid-court, she “sprinted directly” toward him, posing for a photo and getting an autograph. “I am so glad she got to experience this with Manu,” Flores said.
Popovich, of course, has had Uvalde in the front of his mind since the shooting. In June, a few weeks after the incident, he spoke out against the gun laws and political system that made the tragedy possible. “How many will it take? A massacre a month? Two massacres a week? Fifteen kids? Twenty-four kids?” he asked, urging politicians to “get off [their] ass” and “do something.”
“They work for us,” he added. “The majority of us want them to do something about the gun laws, and they don’t do it because they care more about their power, their position, and their money than they do about our children.”
By spending the day with the community, Popovich and the Spurs reminded Uvalde that they care. Tre Jones, a 22-year-old guard entering his third year in the NBA, summed it up. “We are just trying to bring joy to the families and all the kids who were friends with those kids who died, and help the teachers as well,” he said. “We want to bring a moment of happiness into their lives again, and try to just bring a smile to their faces.”