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Commentary: Spurs retire number of a truly nice guy

Kyle Kensing
Staff writer
By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, March 8, 2005
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Who says nice guys finish last?

Certainly not the San Antonio Spurs, who honored former Arizona basketball great and one of professional sports' true role models Sean Elliott in a number- retirement ceremony Sunday night.

Elliott became just the fifth player in Spurs history to receive the honor, which also marked the first time a Wildcats' professional number was retired.

More than 18,000 fans remained in SBC Center following the Spurs' win over the Utah Jazz for the post-game retirement of Elliott's No. 32, and for good reason.

Elliott's devotion to the game of basketball, as well as to communities outside of the sport, is worthy of praise.

Professional sports are rocked by a new scandal on a seemingly daily basis, as greed, drug abuse and egotism overshadow everything else.

An athlete without the greed, drug abuse and egotism, like Sean Elliott, is often forgotten, which makes Sunday's ceremony all the more special.

Throughout his career, the Tucson native routinely proved that nice guys can finish first and that professional athletes can be role models.

Elliott's contribution to basketball can be seen right here at the UA.

After earning prep All-American honors at Cholla High School, Elliott could have taken his skills to an established program.

He instead remained in Tucson, joining an upstart program led by a coach new to the Pacific 10 Conference.

And like the cliché goes, the rest is history.

Elliott led Arizona to its first Final Four appearance in 1988, broke Lew Alcindor's career scoring record in 1989 and in the same year, became the first, and to this day only, Wildcat to win the John Wooden Award.

The 6-foot-8 forward then took his game to the NBA's San Antonio Spurs in 1989.

Elliott's career coincided with the league's free agency boom, and players spending their careers with one franchise became increasingly uncommon.

However, much like in his collegiate days, Elliott remained loyal to the Alamo City, playing 11 of his 12 professional seasons there.

Again, his loyalty reaped rewards. Elliott was key to the Spurs' first NBA championship run in 1999 despite secretly battling a kidney ailment.

In an era when some players sit out for fear of injury, Elliott gave to the fans of San Antonio and basketball in general by showing the meaning of determination.

He never once complained; he never blamed a poor performance on his health. Rather, he scored 17 points per game in that year's playoffs.

Yet while Elliott's achievements on the court are the reasons for the honor, his contributions away from the hardwood are equally remarkable.

Elliott is an avid supporter of youth organizations in Tucson and San Antonio, including the YMCA and Boys and Girls Clubs.

Every year here in the Old Pueblo, Elliott hosts the Sean Elliott Steak and Hamburger Dinner, a ceremony honoring Boys and Girls Club members for outstanding community service.

The first Wildcat to have his Arizona number retired also hosts a youth basketball camp in Tucson every summer, and he frequently speaks at the Lute Olson Basketball Camp.

And all this giving back to the community is not for show. Elliott has always been truly devoted to fans, something this long-time basketball fan can attest to firsthand.

As a collegiate star, Elliott was not too egotistical to interrupt his lunch to shake a 5-year-old's hand, nor was he too much of a star to sign a 10-year-old's basketball card.

Like thousands of fans in Tucson, San Antonio and nationwide, I will remember Sean Elliott's career with the utmost admiration.

And the rest of the NBA should take notice: A great player can certainly be a great person, and vice versa.

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