As it is well known, the San Antonio Spurs have established themselves as the best-run franchise in the NBA for almost two decades now. The development of David Robinson alongside Tim Duncan in the late 90's, followed by the Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili after the turn of the century have yielded an unparalleled amount of success for a team that used to live in anonymity.
The arrival of Ginobili during the 2002-03 season not only meant the establishment of San Antonio as a dynasty in the making, it also coincided with what has become one of the most unique scheduling quirks in American sports: the San Antonio Rodeo trip.
After playing for more than 20 years at the HemisFair Arena, and then for 10 seasons at the Alamodome, the Spurs moved to a new gym in 2002. The former SBC Center represented a new state-of-the-art arena for the small-market franchise, with its move bolstered by the franchise's first title in 1999. However, this move was engineered with the help of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo – one of the biggest such organizations in the country.
The San Antonio Rodeo is a yearly tradition that dates back to the 1950's, now providing one of the largest livestock shows in the USA, as well as live rodeo events. During the last decade, the event has averaged well over a million visitors during its three-week stretch that usually takes place between late January and mid-February. With the event becoming a cash cow (no pun intended), it is understandable that it becomes the arena's top priority for its duration.
This means that the basketball team, and also the AHL San Antonio Rampage, have to continue their respective schedules away from home.
Prolonged road trips are nothing new in the NBA, but they tend to be no longer than 5 games and are still an extreme measure that puts the visiting team at an increasing disadvantage. The grind of playing back-to-backs and the hardships of the season, especially for contending teams, can be a heavy burden, but they have nothing in comparison to what the Spurs have to face every year by these dates.
Even as the Rodeo Trip usually has coincided with the All-Star break, the Spurs have still endured killer road trips of up to 9 games, and with none of them featuring fewer than 7. With the core of their roster continuing to age, and Coach Gregg Popovich becoming more and more eager to give rest to his older players, it would be understandable to see San Antonio dwindling a bit during this part of the season.
But, has that really been the case?
Now that we have reached February again, and with the Spurs scheduled to play 8 straight games on the road (they won't host a game until March 4th), today we take a look at how the team has fared since this tradition began in the 2002-03 season.
|Season||Dates||Record||Point Diff.||Final Season Result|
|2002-03||Jan 27- Feb. 16||8-1||+30||Won NBA Finals|
|2003-04||Feb. 2-22||6-1||+39||Lost Second Round|
|2004-05||Jan 31. - Feb. 16||5-2||+71||Won NBA Finals|
|2005-06||Jan. 30-Feb. 15||6-2||+10||Lost Second Round|
|2006-07||Jan. 28-Feb. 14||4-4||+26||Won NBA Finals|
|2007-08||Jan. 28-Feb. 13||6-3||+39||Lost Western Finals|
|2008-09||Feb. 2-21||5-3||+46||Lost First Round|
|2009-10||Feb. 3-21||4-4||+6||Lost Second Round|
|2010-11||Feb. 1-17||6-3||+48||Lost First Round|
|2011-12||Feb. 6-23||8-1||+22||Lost Western Finals|
|2012-13||Feb. 6-24||7-2||+76||Lost NBA Finals|
|2013-14||Feb. 3-21||6-3||-2||Won NBA Finals|
Combined: 71-29 record, +411 point differential.
Even for the Spurs, these numbers are downright shocking. The NBA during this span has been the league the most extreme home-road winning percentages in American sports. With home teams winning 60.5% of their games, it is outright shocking that the Spurs have been able to win 71% of theirs as the road team and in the middle of grueling stretches without getting a breather at home.
Of course, these trips take their toll and the Spurs have seen some ugly losses in the middle of these journeys (by 21 points to the Suns in 2014, by 40 to the Blazers in 2012, and a few others come to mind), but their overall body of work has stood out and should be counted as one of the most remarkable feats by the Spurs in this era.
The preparation and deep benches that are required to face this kind of road trips is a staple of Popovich and his players, and it is hard to imagine any other team in the NBA that could do this on a yearly basis. The 2014-15 season will see San Antonio face 9 straight games away from home, with six of them coming against squads that are fighting for the playoffs. This year's trip started with a tough loss in Toronto, though San Antonio's next win will represent Coach Popovich's 1,000th career win.
One hundred games are by no means a small sample, and even while the Spurs will get the benefit of an 8-day layoff from the All-Star festivities, it is hard to see them falling apart by the end of this stretch. As San Antonio prepares to secure its playoff status and defend its title, the Rodeo Trip could prove pivotal to rise their status in the West and fend off the teams that are fighting for the last playoff spots in the conference. If history is any indication, they will be more than all right.