We don’t want to write them off, but it seems like the San Antonio Spurs are in line to miss the playoffs this season. There’s a good reason why we're hesitant, of course. There are adult basketball fans who don’t know a world where San Antonio was not the playoffs. In the 1996-97 season the Spurs went 20-62 and then drafted Tim Duncan. Since then they’ve won several rings and built a dynasty. So what was the world like the last time the Spurs didn’t make the playoffs? Here’s a look at some events of 1996 and 1997 to put you in the right frame of mind.
Why not start with what was going on in the NBA during the 1996-97 campaign? This was right in the middle of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ second three-peat. Jordan led the NBA in scoring, his teammate Dennis Rodman led the league in rebounding and Chicago took down the Utah Jazz in the NBA Finals.
Jordan had a great year, but he didn’t win MVP. In a controversial decision, it was Utah’s Karl Malone who took him the trophy. Of course, Jordan’s Bulls beat the Mailman’s Jazz in the finals, so he got the last laugh. Meanwhile, Rookie of the Year was won by a promising undersized player you may remember named Allen Iverson.
The Green Bay Packers won the first two Super Bowls but then went through quite a drought. At the end of the 1996 season the Packers, led by Brett Favre, ended that drought by beating the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. The next season the Packers returned to the Super Bowl but couldn’t pull off the repeat. Instead the Denver Broncos won, giving John Elway his first ring.
While the NBA season was wrapping up, though the Spurs were out of it well before that, the NFL was holding its draft. Pace, an offensive tackle out of Ohio State, went first overall to the St. Louis Rams. He was one of three Hall of Famers drafted in the first round in 1997. The other two were Walter Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
Speaking of legendary franchises ending droughts, the New York Yankees beat the Atlanta Braves to win their first World Series since 1978. The American League Rookie of the Year was Derek Jeter. In 1997, the Florida Marlins stunned the baseball world by winning the World Series. They then proceeded to have a fire sale that decimated the franchise, and in some ways it has never truly recovered.
Apparently this was the era for teams to end long championship dry spells. The Red Wings, one of the NHL’s “Original Six,” had the longest drought in the NHL, heading into the 1996-97 season. They hadn’t won a Cup since 1955. Steve Yzerman and Co. finally brought that wait to an end for Hockeytown, sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers to take home the title. They would repeat the next season.
Steve Spurrier is remembered as much for his big personality these days, but he was a great ball coach, and the 1996 Florida Gators squad shows why. Florida went 12-1, including obliterating Florida State in the Sugar Bowl by a score of 52-20, and the Gators won their first national title. On top of that, quarterback Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman.
Tim Duncan, to nobody’s surprise, won basically every individual award for the 1996-97 men’s college basketball season. However, he couldn’t carry Wake Forest to a title. Instead, it was the Arizona Wildcats, a four seed, who won it all under Lute Olson. Miles Simon was named Final Four MVP.
These days, thanks in part to Clint Eastwood’s Richard Jewell movie, the first thing you might remember of the Atlanta Olympics is the bombing. However, let’s not focus on the negative. Muhammad Ali stirred the nation when he lit the Olympic torch. Kerri Strug pulled off a vault on a severely injured ankle to help give the U.S. gymnastics team a gold. And, of course, Team USA basketball won gold.
It all started here. As a 21-year-old golf prodigy, Tiger Woods won the Masters for his first major. It was his coming out moment for the most dominant golf career in history. Injuries and personal issues will keep him from breaking Jack Nicklaus’ majors record, but we all remember Tiger at his peak.
In November of 1996, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole faced off in the presidential election. Clinton won his second term and was then inaugurated early in 1997. You may also remember this election from the classic “Treehouse of Horror” segment from “The Simpsons” called “Citizen Kang.”
Several current NBA stars were born at a time when the Spurs weren’t quite a dynasty yet. Russell, Turner, and Simmons were all born in 1996, as were Jaylen Brown and Devin Booker. In 1997, you can add names like Pelicans teammates Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram. Of course, the Pelicans didn’t even exist at this time.
A lot of famous people were born in 1996 and 1997, many of them athletes, but there were some notable actors as well, such as Sophie Turner and Chloe Grace Moretz. However, there are others we want to point out. Both the current Spider-Man, Tom Holland, and the current MJ, Zendaya, were born in 1996, only a few months apart.
Fans of outer space suffered a one-two punch at the end of 1996 and the beginning of 1997. A few days before Christmas of 1996, Sagan, the star of “Cosmos” and a vital figure in popularizing astronomy, died at the age of 62. Then in January, Tombaugh passed. You may not remember his name, but in 1930 he discovered Pluto, at the time the ninth planet in our solar system.
The mid-90s were a dark time in hip-hop. The titans of West Coast and East Coast rap, Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. respectively, were both murdered. Biggie Smalls was shot down in Los Angeles in March of 1997. He was only 24. The murder remains unsolved. Tupac died in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in September of 1996.
We had two box office titans dwarf their competition in both 1996 and 1997. First up was “Independence Day,” the movie that turned Will Smith into a superstar. It topped the box office in 1996, making over $800 million. Of course even that can’t live up to “Titanic," a true phenomenon. James Cameron’s film made a staggering $1.8 billion at the box office, making it the highest-grossing film of all time until Cameron topped it with “Avatar.”
These days, box office success and critical adoration don’t always go hand in hand. That wasn’t the case for “Titanic.” It won 11 Oscars, tying a record. This included both Best Picture and Best Director. On the other hand, 1996 was a less-riveting year for the Academy Awards. The Best Picture winner was “The English Patient,” best remembered as a “Seinfeld” punchline.
Remember when people watched “SportsCenter” religiously to get highlights and updates? It made sense at the time, as basically nobody had the internet. Sports highlights were so in demand that in November of 1996 ESPN launched a new network: ESPNEWS. All it did was show highlights and report on the news 24/7. Eventually it fell by the wayside, and these days it is mostly used to simulcast radio shows.
This one is for the ‘90s kids. The year 1996 was a time of transition for Nickelodeon. “Rocko’s Modern Life” and “The Adventures of Pete and Pete” went off the air. “Doug” moved from Nickelodeon to Disney (which left it dead to a lot of its audience). Replacing them, in part, was “Hey Arnold” a beloved cartoon about a boy with a football-shaped head.
“Frasier” dominated the Emmys for years, and the 1997 show, which covered the TV season that ran from June of 1996 through May of 1997, was no different. The iconic “Cheers” spinoff won Outstanding Comedy Series for the fourth year in a row, a new record. Meanwhile, “Law and Order” surprised and won Outstanding Drama Series. It’s the only “non-serialized” winner of that award since 1981.
You remember “Macarena,” the song, and dance, that inexplicably took over the country in 1996. There were definitely Spurs games this season where fans were doing the “Macarena.” It was ubiquitous. If you don’t remember 1996, you will never quite be able to fully understand the tidal wave that was the “Macarena” fad.
In 1996, Spice Girls, the five-woman pop group, debuted in their native England. They were a big hit, but the arrival to America waited until 1997. In January of that year, their debut single, “Wannabe,” dropped in the United States. It rose to being the No. 1 song in the country. Then in February their album “Spice” was released in the U.S. It was the best-selling album for 1997, and “girl power” was born.
It happened a couple of months after the Bulls beat the Jazz, but when you are thinking of this time period, this is one of the indelible events. Diana Spencer, former Princess of Wales, was divorced from Prince Charles by this point but was still an incredibly popular cultural figure. Diana, along with Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul, were all killed in a car crash in France.
Every year has its hot toy. In 1996 everybody wanted a Tickle Me Elmo. Well, except maybe the parents who didn’t want to hear Elmo laughing in their house all day. Then in 1997 Tamagotchis became all the rage. They were little handheld digital pets that you would raise and care for. Eventually everybody’s Tamagotchi died, because it’s hard for kids to pay attention for so long.
Jobs, along with Steve Wozniak, helped change computers with the founding of Apple. However, Jobs was not the easiest person to work with, and he was forced out of the company in 1985. He founded a new company called NeXT and also helped build Pixar. In 1997, NeXT was bought by Apple, and Jobs would end up being reinstated as the CEO. This time things went better for Jobs, and for Apple.