We’ve long argued that the Spurs are the greatest sports dynasty America has seen over a shocking 20-plus-year duration. There are plenty of stats a person can use to back that up too. The team hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 1996–1997 season. It has averaged a finals appearance about once every four years and won five championships in that time. Gregg Popovich has sustained his success so effectively that he earned Coach of the Year honors three times over a twelve-year span. The team’s worst season since 1996—which ended with last year’s one-and-done playoff appearance—still saw them post a .573 win percentage. (It was the first time the team had dipped below .600 since Pop came onboard.) The team has proven that it can mint superstars, with a seamless trail from David Robinson to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginóbili, to . . . well, to the short-lived tenure of Kawhi Leonard, at which point it still rattled off wins without a face-of-the-franchise type leading the charge. But no stat is more telling about the dominance of the Spurs over every other franchise in the NBA than this onscreen graphic, captured by NBA reporter Kerith Burke:
Good Lord pic.twitter.com/AQzKkpPseH
— Kerith Burke (@KerithBurke) March 19, 2019
Slumps can happen to every team in every sport, no matter how great they are. Fans booed Babe Ruth in 1922, and the Patriots missed the playoffs the season after Tom Brady first won a Super Bowl. But for the Spurs, a slump means a handful of bad days each year. Specifically, three bad days each year. Over the past 21 seasons, the Spurs have had a losing record for a combined total of 65 days. Do the math, and you can see why Spurs fans tend to sleep well at night.
Looking further down that list, it’s notable that #2 and #3 are the other two Texas franchises. The Rockets and the Mavs aren’t quite the same caliber of dynasty as the Spurs, given that they have about 950 more days with a losing record during that time, but they do beat out the, uh, extremely relevant franchises in Portland and Utah. Congrats, Rockets and Mavs fans!
Admittedly, a statistic like “How many days has the team had a losing record?” doesn’t tell us much about how good the teams actually were during the period noted. The Trail Blazers missed the playoffs for a five-season stretch during the period noted, never made it to the Finals, and still placed fourth. We suspect that most fans would prefer if their teams achieved the uneven success of, say, the Golden State Warriors and their three championships during that time instead. The only reason this statistic is noteworthy is because it’s yet another way of quantifying just how consistent the Spurs have been for the past 21 seasons. Everybody has slumps—except the Spurs, who pretty much always have a winning record. That’s just not how sports works, except for this one team. With other teams, there’ve been other impressive playoff streaks, dynasties that won a lot of championships, and coaches whose teams are always pretty good.
All of that is true for the Spurs—and it’s more likely to be below freezing in San Antonio than for the Spurs to have a losing record on any given day.
The 2018–2019 season might not be the Spurs’ year. The current nine-game win streak notwithstanding, the team is in a tough conference, and it’s hard to imagine a path through the playoffs that goes through Golden State, Houston, or Oklahoma City and on to the finals.
But that’s the point: Even when the Spurs are in the midst of what feels like a mediocre season, they’re still in the mix. Those 65 days with a losing record signify something even more precious than a championship: hope. For 21 years, Spurs fans have woken up almost every day with a good reason to believe that this could be their year. “Days with a losing record” isn’t a valuable statistic in most cases, but with the Spurs, it tells us that no other team comes anywhere close.