Why Spurs fans still love Derrick White

Why Spurs fans still love Derrick White
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

White wasn’t with the franchise for long and didn’t enjoy much success, but he left a lasting impression that has kept him in a special place in most fans’ hearts.

After the Celtics closed out the Finals and were crowned champions, a sizable group of Spurs fans seemed elated in social media and comments sections. Part of why that’s the case is easily attributable to the rival Mavericks being on the losing end, but there’s another major factor at play: Derrick White.

Spurs fans seem to still love White in a way that is typically reserved for players who spent more time in San Antonio, won titles, or both. It’s a special bond that has endured so far and it will be interesting to see if it can continue to exist as his career continues.

The context of White’s rise and trade for San Antonio helps explain why he’s so liked, aside from just seemingly being a good guy. White was drafted before the bleakest Spurs season in decades, as the Kawhi Leonard drama led to a first-round exit for a team with dreams of contention, followed by Manu Ginobili’s retirement and Leonard’s trade. During his rookie year, White was an afterthought but he took over the reins as a sophomore, filling in for the injured Dejounte Murray as the starting point guard and having a stellar performance in the first-round exit against the Nuggets. White was quiet but confident and always selfless and humble. He represented hope and continuity at a time when Spurs fans were looking for it.

The aftermath of his trade also helped cement White as a favorite for Spurs fans. Since there was no controversy to his exit like with Dejounte Murray or Kawhi Leonard, his image is not tarnished and the memories can be appreciated without disclaimers. His demeanor after being moved has also played a huge part. White never made bombastic statements and is seemingly loved by his teammates and grateful to the team that drafted him. The contrast with the more controversial Murray has favored him. He was also a winner. For the people who struggled with the rebuild, seeing White succeed without compromising any of the traits that made him Spurs-y in the first place provided a respite from the constant reminder that San Antonio was losing and allowed for some indirect sense of pride.

Coincidentally, White’s success is what might pull him away from being identified with the Spurs as closely going forward, at least from outsiders. The seven-game loss to Denver in the first round doesn’t feel as memorable for a guy who started for and played an integral part in an NBA champion. White has also already played more minutes in Boston than he did with the Spurs and while his numbers with the Celtics have been eerily similar to the ones he was posting in San Antonio, the perception is that he’s made a huge leap because of the level of team success that he, to no fault of his own, couldn’t find in San Antonio. If he gets an extension as reported and plays in Boston for a few more contending years, White will be inextricably linked to the Celtics.

At the same time, the Spurs are now entering a stage of the rebuild in which the attention will turn inwards. Rooting for the success of former members of the franchise was easy when San Antonio was stuck in mediocrity or rebuilding, since championships were not within grasp. If Victor Wembanyama continues to develop as expected and the front office makes good additions this offseason, however, that could soon change. White’s Celtics are in the East and have already reached the highest heights, so they won’t necessarily be seen as a rival, but at some point they will be in the Spurs’ way. And fans will be more concerned with finding the next White than celebrating the original.

That time is not here yet, fortunately. For now, White is still someone his Day 1 fans can feel some indirect pride about, and at least a small part of his success can be attributed to the Spurs. He’s also unlikely to squander the goodwill of the Silver and Black faithful like past fan favorites like Stephen Jackson and, to a lesser extent, Dejounte Murray did, which means his time in San Antonio will continue to be remembered fondly.

As the Spurs hopefully keep building toward contention, the connection the fanbase has with White will naturally fade somewhat, but the new players will have big shoes to fill. Like George Hill and Patty Mills before him, White’s talent and character left a lasting impression in San Antonio, and becoming the new favorite won’t be easy.

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