By Sandy Mui
Published: April 25th, 2018
In the first year I watched NBA basketball, I witnessed my beloved New Jersey Nets get eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round. Then, I watched as the Cavaliers went on to the NBA Finals, only to be ousted as championships by the San Antonio Spurs.
That was 2007. Now, in 2018, the Spurs are still remarkably a playoff team — a basketball dynasty, even. San Antonio has made the playoffs for 20 consecutive seasons, the longest streak by a single team for active consecutive playoff appearances.
This consistency has allowed the Spurs to accumulate a high level of respect and admiration from NBA fans, players, coaches and… literally everyone. Just to name a few: Barack Obama (it’s pretty much over when Barack Obama compliments you, right? No one can top that, right?), Steve Kerr and Kobe Bryant. (During his “farewell tour” season, Bryant named the postseason Spurs as one of the five toughest teams he played against.)
This consistency was also what attracted power forward LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs three years ago, despite San Antonio’s status as a “small-market” team. (In terms of major league sports, “small-market” and “large-market” are terms used to identify teams by the size of the city’s media market. From that definition, cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Boston would be considered large markets, while cities like San Antonio, Utah and Oklahoma City would be considered small markets.) And, while Aldridge still has yet to attain a coveted championship ring in San Antonio, it is unlikely that he regrets his decision to join the club.
Gregg Popovich, the guy at the helm of this team for the last two decades, has played a huge factor in the Spurs’ reputable image. Sure, other NBA teams have had recent playoff success, but in terms of legacies, theirs pale in comparison to San Antonio’s. It takes time — need I remind you… 20 years? — to build something as special as the Spurs, and honestly, it might just never happen again. Cavaliers star LeBron James and former Utah Jazz head coach George Karl have both called Pop the “greatest all-time NBA coach,” a well-deserved label. I mean, when you have had this much success over 20 years — 1197 wins dating back to the 1996-97 season — a positive public image is only expected.
Everybody loves Pop — as we all call him for short — from his goofy courtside interviews with the late Craig Sager (RIP), to his exceptionally vocal opinions on political issues. (By the way, although the Spurs are a team that clearly rejects him, even then-presidential nominee Donald Trump has praised them.)
Still, this “respect” for the Spurs and Pop has evolved into somewhat of a personal and emotional attachment. When Popovich’s wife Erin died a day prior to Game Three of the Spurs’ first-round series against the Warriors this year, it was everyone’s loss — Spurs fan or not. All of us were right there with Pop — crying, mourning and praying for him.
So, even when the Spurs were eliminated by the Warriors in the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, that is not going to tarnish the legacy they have built over the last two decades. That illustrious image will remain intact and one day fill pages of NBA history books.
In fact, I would argue that the day San Antonio fails to clinch a playoff spot — that will be the day when all NBA fans shed a tear. Going even further than that, all NBA fans will shed a tear the day Pop finally steps away from his coaching seat. (It would be a shame if Pop ends his playoff streak before the day he retires.)
Basketball dynasties are not new — there are the “Showtime” Lakers, Larry Bird’s Celtics and Michael Jordan’s Bulls. But, I will always remember the Gregg Popovich Spurs as the first basketball dynasty I was alive to witness.