One of the least talked about accolades in sports is consistency. In tennis it’s been Roger Federer. However, when it comes to American professional team sports perhaps nobody ever has had a better run than the San Antonio Spurs.
San Antonio won their 10th straight game Sunday to guarantee the Spurs of their 15th consecutive regular season with at least 50 victories. The constants have been general manager (also vice president and assistant GM since 1999) R.C. Buford, power forward Tim Duncan, owner Peter Holt and head coach Gregg Popovich.
Equally impressive has been San Antonio has had 17 straight winning regular seasons. Drafting Duncan at No. 1 after David Robinson, longtime Spurs great, had to sit out the 1996-97 season proved to be a godsend.
That staggering number is second, however, in the NBA behind the 1985-86 to 2003-04 Utah Jazz, who had a sub-.640 winning percentage through 19 regular seasons. Fittingly Utah was San Antonio’s opponent on Sunday. The Jazz dropped their ninth game in their last 10, 122-104, and were swept by the Spurs for the first time since 2010-11.
San Antonio’s 15 consecutive seasons of 50 victories or more is an NBA record. The Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks are second and third respectively with 12 and 11 50-win regular seasons. The Spurs won the first of their four championships in a shortened NBA season in 1999. Had the NBA not been in a lockout San Antonio very well could be at 17 straight 50-win regular seasons already.
The Spurs were 37-13 in 1998-99 and were 56-26 the previous season. At 20-62 during the 1996-97 regular season San Antonio somehow won the draft lottery despite the 15-67 Boston Celtics and 14-68 Vancouver Grizzlies having worse records and better odds of landing the Wake Forest standout.
A forgotten Spurs fact is that Popovich, then San Antonio’s GM, relieved Bob Hill of his coaching duties after a 3-15 start to the 1996-97 campaign. Despite going 17-47 the rest of the season Pop’s winning percentage was .160 higher than Hill’s. What happened next was guiding San Antonio to 56, 37, 53, 58, 58, 60, 57, 59, 63, 58, 56, 54, 50, 61, 50, 58 and 50 and counting victories during 17 regular seasons.
The Spurs’ are in rarefied air. How many franchises can go 50-32, land the seventh seed and beat second-seeded Dallas in the playoffs and yet still feel disappointed? One.
Despite being in a small market through keeping things simple and tinkering not much year to year San Antonio has been the class of the NBA the past two decades. And that’s who, when not celebrating another championship, feels saddened by the failure of an expectation to be the best.