SAN ANTONIO — NBA general managers took turns cursing and drooling about the Lakers' free agent haul this summer, and yet seeing Robert Horry in a San Antonio Spurs jersey causes a little twinge of pain about a guy they let walk away.
It was pretty obvious that Horry's time in L.A. was up after his 32% shooting performance in last spring's playoffs. And any time you can add the league's second all-time leading scorer to replace a guy with a career average of eight points per game, it's gotta happen.
That's the callous side of sports, the one that comes at the expense of friendships and good times. Because when it comes to people to fill up a locker room, there are few better than Horry.
"He's certainly a person that fits in well, and tries to fit in and accommodate other people," Laker Coach Phil Jackson said. "He's not a person that wants to take any of the spotlight away from anybody else, and yet he can still make big plays."
His three-pointer to beat the Sacramento Kings in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference finals ranks among the biggest plays in Laker history, and just another in the long line of hits from the guy Kobe Bryant calls "Big Shot Bob." That never caused him to strut around town as if he were more important than anyone else. He was still just Rob, a guy more likely to hang around equipment manager Rudy Garciduenas than the superstar players.
"I miss Rudy more than anybody," Horry said.
Before the games at Staples Center, Horry could be found in the equipment room, his feet on Garciduenas' desk, watching television.
"Rudy was supposed to teach me Spanish," Horry said. "That's why I started hanging out with him."
Did he learn anything?
"No," Horry said. "Nada."
On the road, Horry often went to the movies with Dan Garcia, the team's massage therapist.
"Me and him like the same type of movies," Garcia said. "We like the superhero type of movies. Anytime a 'Spider-Man' or 'Hulk', 'X-Men' or something like that [came out], it was something we would go see.
"Rob was different. He was more of a low-key type player. He wasn't so huge that he couldn't go anywhere, but yet he was still big enough. With Shaq, it's an ordeal [to go out in public]. Me and Shaq, we watch movies in his room, because it's easier."
Horry grew comfortable during his seven years in Los Angeles, his longest stay in one place during a 12-year career that began in Houston, moved to Phoenix and now has brought him back to Texas.
He also misses his clothes-maker and hanging buddy Ron Finley, and R.C. the bartender at P.F. Chang's at Beverly Hills, who even concocted a special drink in Horry's honor.
"The thing you miss most is the people you get to know and meet that live in L.A.," Horry said. "Those are the people you miss more, because you're going to see these guys [the players and coaches]. You get to see them on the road, you're going to see them in different places.
"The people you don't get a chance to see, like your buddies who can't really afford to fly around and come visit you. Those are the guys you miss most."
The Lakers miss a number of the intangibles Horry brought to the floor that don't show up in the box score: "His savvy, his screen-rolls, defensive help, his overall game on the court, his knowledge of what we're trying to do," Jackson said.
Horry was one of the few frontline players who defended the screen-and-roll properly, and he often helped out other players who were out of position. (By contrast, the Spurs are so technically sound on defense that Horry sometimes doesn't know what to do -- surely someone needs help, right?)
Horry had a strong idea that the Lakers would not pick up the option on his contract after the season-ending loss to the Spurs in the conference semifinals. After shooting a career-low 29% from three-point range during the regular season, he made only two of his 38 three-point attempts during the playoffs. The Lakers were able to land Karl Malone at less than half of Horry's price.
The Spurs signed Horry to a two-year contract in July. They knew they wouldn't need him too much playing behind Tim Duncan, but they also needed a low-key person to replace departed veterans such as Steve Kerr and Steve Smith on the bench.
"He fits our style perfectly," assistant coach Mario Elie said. "He's helping a lot of young guys. That's Robert."
Since 1997 I've spent as much time around the Lakers as anyone else in my life. While they've been a good group to work with, and most have been friendly, Horry was the only one whom I would call a friend. He's the type of guy who would call in the middle of the summer, just to see what's going on.
So the Lakers' first visit of the season was a chance to check in on him. When Horry finished shooting practice jumpers an hour before the game, a stream of Lakers made their way over to say hello to him. And Rick Fox ran out and wrapped Horry in a bearhug after the Lakers' 120-117 double-overtime victory.
Horry likes the fact he's only a two-hour drive from his wife and kids in Houston. He likes all of the amenities that come with being a Spur in San Antonio (Need a car? A cell phone? You got it.)
"It's been good," Horry said.
With Horry, the end of the story always is.
J.A. Adande can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org