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The Spurs Are Changing Their Stripes

San Antonio is bringing the Fiesta back as its roster shifts to the future, but embracing a youth movement also means leaving a legacy of excellence behind

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Now that the NBA has released the designs for the 2020-21 City Edition jerseys, I can definitively say what I’ve known for weeks: The Spurs have the best jersey in the NBA.

The Fiesta jersey harkens back to the Spurs’ iconic warmup wear and court design from the ’90s, and pays homage to San Antonio’s vibrant history and culture, and its Hispanic community in particular. It is a welcome splash of color to the franchise’s rather drab palette of white, black, gray, and, when the team feels really frisky, camo. Teal, pink, and orange stripes underline an elegantly scripted “San Antonio,” the first time the city’s name has graced the front of the Spurs’ jersey since 1989. The rowel that dots the “i” is the rancher’s equivalent of a chef’s kiss.

Fans have clamored for the Fiesta theme for years, only to be disappointed with back-to-back camouflage releases in reference to San Antonio’s nickname, Military City. Now, those fans will get the threads they want, but stand to be disappointed anyway—this time by a likely second-straight trip to the lottery.

As this accelerated offseason winds down, it seems the 2020-21 Spurs will return much of the team that finished last season 32-39 and 24th in defensive rating. While much of the upcoming season is up in the air due to COVID-related uncertainty, most expect the Spurs to spend it mired near the bottom of the Western Conference.

The Spurs last wore the Fiesta colors in the 1996-97 season, when they won 20 games. The following offseason, they drafted Tim Duncan. In the 23 years since, they sported a monochrome wardrobe while earning a reputation as the NBA’s model, and most boring, franchise. That reputation is owed to 22 straight playoff appearances, five NBA titles, and a workmanlike approach to taking care of business, not to team colors. Still, the return of the Fiesta jersey feels like the official closing of the book on one of professional sports’ most impressive runs.

1995 Western Conference Finals - Game Two: Houston Rockets v San Antonio Spurs Photo by Noren Trotman/NBAE via Getty Images

That the Spurs tossed the Fiesta warmups to the sidelines after a losing season and reinstated them after their next—albeit over 20 years later—is most likely a coincidence. But it’s a poetic bit of symmetry. Even if the timing is mere happenstance, the jersey announces: At long last, for better or worse, the Spurs are embracing something new.

There is reason for optimism in San Antonio beyond blind faith in the law of The Spurs Finish Above .500 in Non-COVID-Interrupted Seasons. That starts with DeMar DeRozan, who gamely filled in at power forward in Orlando and has made major strides as a distributor during his Spurs tenure, and LaMarcus Aldridge, who shot twice as many 3s per game last season as his previous career high—at a 39 percent clip! More importantly, the Spurs have a cohort of young, bouncy perimeter players in Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Lonnie Walker IV, Keldon Johnson, and new draftee Devin Vassell that promises to translate some of that fresh Fiesta flair to the court. This group’s potential is pure speculation, but win or lose, they’ll bear little resemblance to the achromatic and typically ground-bound Spurs of old.

There’s another area where this next iteration of the Spurs will differ from its predecessors: the win column. DeRozan and Aldridge are underappreciated offensive artists, but they compound each other’s weaknesses. The rest of the roster is exciting but young and lacks oomph. The chief architects of the Spurs’ lauded culture remain, but the franchise’s recent personnel moves and style of play have been confounding. The Spurs will need more than a dash of color to breach the walls of the Western Conference playoff field, let alone the once-familiar top four. Some fans even want the front office to fast-forward to the next era by trading DeRozan and Aldridge—“get on with it already!”

It’s hard to imagine Duncan pivoting into 12-foot bank shots while rocking the Fiesta colors, just like it’s hard to imagine these Spurs repeating that 22-year run of blunted excellence. The youth movement is indeed underway, whether it comes this season or not: Murray, who will become the first Spurs point guard to wear the Fiesta colors in a game, will be the team’s highest-paid player after this season. Aldridge, DeRozan, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills—the last remnant of the team’s title-winning past—will play out this season on expiring contracts. For fans, the long-awaited fluorescent design will pair well with the team’s youth infusion and kinetic potential. For the team, the Fiesta release is “about incorporating our past and our future,” as Spurs vice president of strategic brand engagement Becky Kimbro told Texas Monthly.

On the court and hanging in the locker room, that future is here. In this year’s Fiesta jersey, the franchise has finally given fans what they’ve been asking for. We may soon be reminded that we’ve had it pretty good all along.