Gary DeLaune is a longtime Texas journalist and a veteran of more than four decades behind the microphone. He broadcasts high school football games on radio station Star 810-AM KYTY (www.star810.com).
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"Rootie toot toot...rootie toot toot...who's that ___ in a referee's suit?"
"Elevator, elevator... we got the shaft" ...
Two of the common rants emitted from sections 20 and 22 in the old Hemisfair Arena when a group of irreverent, irascible and impenitent fans known as the "Baseline Bums" would provide verbal barbs directed at the opposing team or the men wearing the striped shirts.
They may have been one of the most obnoxious, obtrusive and yet most admired group of fans ever to attend a Spurs game from the opening tip in 1973 to the final game of the 2008 playoffs. Through season after season, with no early day championship pennant hanging from the rafters, there was one Spurs constant... the presence of the Bums.
The raucous group was seemingly transcendent of an earlier era when Brooklyn Dodger fans would taunt the umpires and say "Murder d' bums."
Perhaps that's why in 1974 when San Antonio Brewers General Manager John Begzos was hired to be general sales manager for the Spurs, David Boyle and Larry Braun, who had organized a small group of "Bums" for the baseball team, told Begzos they'd like to form a group of fans similar to the baseball bums. Thus the "Baseline Bums" were born.
It took about as long for a George Gervin finger roll as it did to enlist more members for the hardwood rowdies and not much longer than a Tom Nissalke contract to gain a league-wide reputation.
In 1975, a 23-year old resident of Devine, George Valle, joined the club, which it is, because you have to join in order to be a member, and Spurs management, Angelo Drosso, Begzos and media director Wayne Witt, allowed the Bums to enhance their sometimes invidious behavior by antagonizing visiting teams and officials alike. Opponents would have to enter the arena by passing under the Bums section and that's when the hassle began.
George was enticed to join by two former South San assistant coaches, Ronnie Rackley and Jim Wingate.
Valle was eventually elected president of the group and served in that position for more than a dozen years. In 30-plus-years, he missed five home games and the absences were due to a job injury.
In the first two to three years, the Bums were allowed to buy those section 20-22 seats for a dollar each. Their membership grew to more than 150 and the roster ran the gamut of San Antonio society claiming doctors, lawyers, housewives, executives and two police detectives, Sgts. Duke Hoff and Richard Clayton. After four years, tickets prices were hiked to two dollars per game and you could buy as many in the section as you wanted until noon game day.
Valle says no one was safe from the verbal wrath of the Bums. They selected, for no particular reason, some NBA officials as jeer targets. Joey Crawford, Tommy Nunez, Hugh Hollins and Darryl Garretson and a few others. In the early years, they gave Jack Madden a rain of descriptive phrases, particularly after the Washington Bullets defeated the Spurs four games to three in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
George says he and several of the officials became good friends. After the game, many of the Bums would head for Champions or the River Walk Marriott and the refs would show up later.
"I like Joey Crawford" George admitted, perhaps a rare San Antonian who likes the veteran official.
"Tommy Nunez would always arrive at the game early and he'd purchase up to 20 tickets and give them to kids outside the Arena." Valle continued, "Tommy is very compassionate and generous man."
It was inevitable that the price of the ducats would eventually rise and before the Spurs left their original home, the Bums were paying $12 a seat.
In 1993 when the team moved to the Alamodome, the Bums were assigned to sections 104 and 105... nowhere near the proximity they occupied in their best hassle days in the Arena. Tickets jumped to 21 dollars a seat, still one heckuva bargain and Tom James had succeeded Wayne Witt in the media division and he continued to work with the Bums even though they were a distant drum in the courtside conundrum.
Then, the AT&T Center opened and the Bums have never recaptured their irritating charisma they once claimed in the early days.
There are few Bums left who were members in the years of infancy: Kathy Snyder along with Rick and Grace Branecky are still in the club as seat prices have climbed to 54 dollars per game.
"I just couldn't afford to go anymore" explains Valle.
He is unable to climb stairs so James arranged for him to have a chair by the mezzanine rail but George says at age 57, the cost along with the crowd and traffic make it difficult for him to attend a game... which he hasn't done in recent seasons.
But he doesn't miss a game on radio or television and he continues to be an avid Spurs fan. Witt, knowing Valle's love for basketball, arranged for him to have a designated courtside seat at all the University of Incarnate Word home games and when he's there, it belongs to George.
"I made a lot of great friends" Valle exclaims. "I still e-mail Artis Gilmore frequently and I keep in touch with Brian McEntrye, the NBA chief of public relations."
Years ago, Witt introduced the longtime Bums president to McEntyre and Brian arranged for George to attend 13 All-Star games, plus reserve a hotel room for the discounted price given the NBA.
Valle says his favorite official is Hugh Hollins with whom he still corresponds and his favorite Spurs coach is Stan Albeck who is still recovering from a stroke he suffered a few years ago while an assistant for Toronto.
As a matter of fact, George and Stan became business partners of sorts when Albeck invested in a Lytle auto parts store more than 20 years ago and it went out of business during the dark economic days of the mid 80s.
One of the most irreverent stunts the Bums initiated was a night when the Chicago Bulls were in town. Michael Jordan had that habit of letting his tongue hang out a little during the game, particularly when he was in heated action or at the free-throw line.
Club member Leon Gibson went to a local meat market and bought a cow tongue and they put it in a frame and when Jordan came on to the court, Gibson held up the framed tongue and the Bums began chanting Jordan's name... General Manager Bob Bass thought it was about as funny as watching John Goodman eating hotdogs... "Get rid of It"... a strict Bass directive delivered by Tom James.
It surpassed the banana antic in the 80s when Darryl Dawkins came to town and all the Bums brought the fruit and displayed bananas when the Philadelphia center entered the Arena.