With the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft, the San Antonio Spurs hold the number one pick. Last year, when the Magic had the number one pick, there seemed to be a choice between Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero. This year, there is no debate. French big man Victor Wembanyama is the consensus number-one pick and is thought of to be the next great player in the NBA. With Wembanyama being the top overall guy, there hasn’t seemingly been much evaluation for anyone else.
That leads us to this article – a short history of the number-one overall San Antonio Spurs draft picks. This will be the third time that the Spurs have had the liberty of drafting first. Their previous two top overall picks were first-ballot Hall of Famers and are the two greatest players in team history.
With that being said, let’s look back on those previous two first-overall picks in the San Antonio Spurs draft history.
First Overall Picks in the San Antonio Spurs Draft History
1987 | David Robinson – Center – Navy
The San Antonio Spurs are undoubtedly the best of the four teams that came over from the ABA. The Spurs became a basketball team in 1967 and subsequently joined the NBA during the merger in 1976. They were good enough in their first 10 years in the NBA to not warrant a first-overall pick. That changed in 1987, but it came with a price. David Robinson was one of the best players in college basketball the year before, but due to attending the Navy, the Admiral had to finish his service before moving to the NBA. That didn’t shy the Spurs away from taking a shot on him.
Due to NBA rules at the time, Robinson had the option to reenter the draft after his military service and there were rumors about him doing so. That did not materialize, as Robinson joined the team for the 1989-90 season. Robinson became a force in the league, winning Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year award and a scoring title all within his first five seasons in the league. The scoring race in the 1993-94 season was one of the tightest in NBA history. In the last game of the season, Robinson scored 71 points to not only set the Spurs record but beat Shaquille O’Neal out for the scoring title.
With Michael Jordan out of the NBA, Robinson continued to build on his strong start in San Antonio, eventually winning an NBA MVP award in 1995. One year later, Robinson was added to the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in History. After injuries later in his career, the Spurs were awarded the number one pick again in 1997, and they picked Tim Duncan.
Duncan’s youth and skill was enough to revitalize an aging Spurs team. With Duncan and Robinson together, the Spurs were able to start the dynasty and Robinson won his first championship in 1999 over the New York Knicks. Robinson’s career started to decline shortly after the championship and announced that he was going to retire after the 2002-03 season. He contributed once again to a championship, before riding into the sunset as one of the greatest NBA players of all time.
1997 | Tim Duncan – Power Forward – Wake Forest
After a poor 1996-97 season, the San Antonio Spurs were awarded the number one pick in the NBA Draft. The consensus top overall pick was Wake Forest big man, Tim Duncan, who dominated college basketball the year prior. Duncan partnered with David Robinson to become The Twin Towers.
The two dominated on the defensive side of the ball early. What separated the two though was Duncan’s incredible rebounding ability. In one of Duncan’s first games in the NBA, he was matched against Dennis Rodman and recorded 22 rebounds. In his rookie season, Duncan played in all 82 games, recording stats of 21.1 points per game and 11.9 rebounds per game. Duncan finished his first season with the Rookie of the Year. As stated before, Duncan helped to kick off the dynasty of the Spurs with two championships along with Robinson. He won the NBA Finals MVP in 1999.
Duncan would then hit his stride in the early-2000s. The big man won back-to-back NBA MVPs in 2002 and 2003. Also winning a championship with Robinson in 2003, Duncan was named NBA Finals MVP in 2003. After Robinson’s retirement, Duncan would go on to become the leader of the Spurs dynasty with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich. Duncan’s combination of touch on offense and suffocating defense gave the Spurs two more championships in the 2000s – 2005 and 2007. With Parker and Ginobili coming into their own later in Duncan’s career, while adding Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs were able to take home their fifth championship in 2014. Duncan was able to change his game to focus more on contributing and giving the scoring role to all of the role players on the team.
Tim Duncan has gone down as the greatest San Antonio Spur of all time, averaging 19, 10.8 and 3 in 20 seasons with the Spurs. With 10 First-Team All-NBA Teams, eight First-Team All-Defensive Teams and 15 NBA All-Star selections, Duncan is a top-10 player in NBA history.