Hey man, it’s Ice: An interview with George Gervin

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I don’t consider myself easily starstruck by my interviewees. I’ll admit to being a little excited and more than a little nervous the first time I spoke with Gregg Popovich. And I’d be a brazen liar if I said I wasn’t all smiles after the first time I met Tim Duncan. But after seeing the players standing around in their underwear a few too many times, you get over that pretty quickly.

I’ve gone on to interview some prominent people, and suddenly basketball players don’t seem like such a big deal anymore. That’s why a friend of mine from the office was a little surprised to see the state I was in after I hung up the phone with George Gervin.

“You’re glowing,” she said.

“He won the MVP in 1980,” I yelled, a bit too loudly and with no consideration for the fact that she had no idea what or who I was talking about.

When your phone rings and Gervin introduces himself with an inimitable ease, you can’t help but think, “damn, his nickname is appropriate.” His entire way of speaking– warm and relaxed –seems soaked in the ’70s and early ’80s.

Typically I try to maintain a sense of journalistic distance, but I won’t disguise my excitement: It was an honor to speak with the man and I hope you enjoy our conversation. If you have a chance, please stop by BPI Fan Connect, which you’ll read more about during the interview, and support the George Gervin Youth Center’s capital campaign.

First and foremost, I want to ask you about your youth center and the promotional campaign you’re having right now. Can you tell me about that?

Yeah, the George Gervin Youth Center now is expanding so we’ve got a capital campaign going on. BPI Promotions is a company here in San Antonio that knows about my George Gervin Youth Center and all the programs I have. [Alix Babaie, the founder of BPI] came up with an idea and said, “Ice, let’s do a figurine of you in an ABA uniform with an ABA ball, since we’re a former ABA franchise, and we’ll sponsor them, and we’ll sell them and help you raise some money for your capital campaign.”

I was flabbergasted really. He said, “George you’re doing some great stuff in this community, I see you’re expanding.” I have a charter school where I have 820-some kids. We’re chartered for 2500 kids, so I can expand. So we’re expanding. We’re in the process of building a wellness center. My wellness center is going to be nine more classrooms, so we can get another 200 and something kids, and we’re also going to build 3 basketball courts.

[Ed. Note: If you have the chance, we here at 48 Minutes of Hell would love if you’d stop by BPI Fan Connect and consider purchasing one of the figurines George mentioned. I’d remind you that it’s for a good cause, but you already know that.]

That sounds great. I know everyone in San Antonio really appreciates the work you do in the community. As a fan of the franchise, it’s always been a point of pride that former Spurs make such an impact on the town.

Well, we got a beautiful supporting cast, a fan base here in San Antonio.

So I wanted to ask, a moment that is just mythic, that I couldn’t talk to you without asking about. Back in 1978, it was the last game of the season, and you scored 63 points to win the NBA scoring title, narrowly defeating David Thompson. What was going through your mind at that time? Did you know that he had a huge game as well? Did you know the points you had to get to in order to win the scoring title or were you just playing out there?

As a matter of fact, he played in the afternoon on a Sunday, so he had a chance to play before me. I played in the evening. After he scored 73 points, the press called me and told me that David scored 73 points and he just moved ahead of you for the scoring title. So that’s how I knew.

Were you gunning for it or were you just playing your game?

What happened is, my coach and my teammates also knew what happened. And they got together, and Coach Doug Moe he asked the team. He said, “We want to give Ice a shot at regaining the scoring title,” which was incredible to me. But that’s the kind of coach Doug Moe was. He was my favorite coach. He and my teammates gave me an opportunity to try to get the scoring title back. They said, “OK, when we get on the floor, we want Ice to get the ball every time down the floor.”

That’s wild.

Ya, man. That’s unheard of, man, in today’s basketball, because we were already in the playoffs. We already knew who we were going to play. So you know, last game of the season. In today’s basketball, coaches don’t let their guys play. They let their guys rest and get ready for the playoffs. To me, that’s crazy. Back when we were playing, we played all the way out, all 82 games trying to win.

What are the real differences between the league when you guys played in it and they way they’re playing the game nowadays? Tactically, is there some stuff they do that you guys didn’t used to do or some things you might consider a lost art?

Well, the game has changed quite a bit. When I played– how you guard somebody –you could put your hands on them. You could stop their forward progress. It was a little bit more physical.

Do you think you should still be able to hand-check or do you like the fact that they changed the rule?

Ain’t nothing wrong with hand-checking. It’s hard to guard somebody if you can’t put your hands on them. You know what I’m saying? He can go anywhere he wants go. If you hand-check him a little bit, you can make him use skills.

Speaking of skills, one of you’re most famous shots was the finger roll. It’s your trademark shot. I was wondering, when did you start using that? Was it back when you were in college? With the Squires? With the Spurs?

I want to say back in college. Because back in college they took the dunk rule out. It might have been in high school when they had that rule. Really, I perfected it in the pros, because I watched Julius Erving. He had his own version of the finger roll. I watched Wilt Chamberlain, he had his own version of the finger roll. And Connie Hawkins. I watched those three greats use that move, and I kind of copied them. And I’m the one who became famous for it.

One of my favorite artifacts from that old NBA era is that video of you and “Pistol” Pete Maravich playing HORSE at the All-Star Game. I love that video. I had to ask, people complain about the All-Star game, they say it isn’t exciting enough. Do you have any ideas about how they could jazz it up? You were an All-Star nine times, you know your way around the All-Star game.

I like the All-Star game. It’s a big celebration. I always want the guys to compete harder, really make it a competition. A lot of the guys, they don’t play any defense, they let all the guys shoot and dunk. They think dunking is exciting. To me what is exciting is team play, defensive plays. I don’t have anything against the All-Star game, I still think it’s great event. I would like to see the legends game come back, but I’m quite sure that wouldn’t happen. To really get a chance to let today’s fans see the pros of old. Overall though, the league is in great shape and we still see some great talent in the NBA.

How do you think the Spurs did this year? How did you think the season turned and how are you feeling about how the team’s looking in future seasons? What do you think of the young players, George Hill and DeJuan Blair?

I still think the franchise is solid. I still think we got some quality players. We got some young guys who show great potential in George Hill and DeJuan Blair. They’ve really shown they are going to be a part of the San Antonio Spurs for years to come. I think Tim Duncan still has two or three years, if he wants to, to really compete. We just resigned Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker, hopefully we’re going to resign him and still keep that core.

I always think that we can have some 3-point shooters. I think Matt Bonner shot the ball well early in the season. Roger Mason got hurt, he was one of our 3-point threats, so he wasn’t able to give 100 percent. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford to bring in guys who can contribute to bring us back to that championship form.

I know people will be excited if we can get at least one more championship during the Tim Duncan era.

We got to be realistic too, man. We’ve won four championships in 10, 11 years. That’s pretty good, man. We’ve got franchises that never won one. I know our fan base was a little disappointed that we got swept by Phoenix but we can’t forget. We’re still a dominant franchise. We’ve got to realize that the players were probably more disappointed than the fans. We’ve got to keep our confidence in our team. We know there is always another year.

  • http://www.espn.com Daniel

    I can’t even imagine how amazing that must have been. I must admit, in a similar position to interview Mr. Pop, I think I’d shit myself. The nervous farts at the very least.

    Seeing the Red Rocket in his boxers though might make me throw up though =/

  • Robert

    Never had the chance to interview him, but I’ve actually run into him a handful of times while at work. He is a really down to Earth guy and its kinda hard to avoid that big goofy smile on your face after talking to him.

  • Bushka

    It’s pretty fantastic how significant the former players are in the San Antonio area. George sounds like he is really grounded.

    I like his take on the franchise as well :)

  • Sam – Australia

    I love that the former players keep so involved.

    I’d happily buy a figurine! They’re quite cheap considering! However I assume I can’t get them shipped to Australia :(

    Nice to see Ice has confidence in the FO.