After the Spurs blew out the Heat in Game 4 Thursday night, putting the franchise one win away from its fifth NBA Championship, Spurs fans bounded out of homes, hotels, bars and everywhere else and took to Commerce Street to celebrate.
This has become a custom after Spurs playoff wins, one that dates back to 1999 and the Spurs first title. Now fans don't even wait for the Finals. They were clogging Commerce Street in the series against Portland.
It's an interesting mix: lovers, families, friends and complete strangers, drunks hanging out of passenger windows, pick up trucks with people up front and people in the bed where they shouldn't be riding. Spurs flags mounted on both sides of many of the vehicles snap in the wind. It’s horn-honking controlled mayhem.
Watching it all as an observer, it's easy to see how even a disinterested sports fan caught downtown could be swept up in the tide of Spurs jubilation. Unless, that is, you were a visiting business man or women, maybe attending a convention, asleep in your hotel room with an early morning appointment.
The street becomes a late night Spurs fan parade that inches along, often coming to a complete stop, as people and their vehicles display Spurs fever, each one with a seemingly distinctive horn on full honk. Some passengers lean out and wave big Spurs flags. Some of the cars and bikes are designed expressly for these moments. I saw cars with screens playing Spurs highlights. One truck quaked the pavement with the loudest horn I’ve ever heard.
A San Antonio police officer, who wished to remain unnamed, told me the celebrations generally last a couple of hours, after which time the SAPD diverts the traffic in order to break things up. He also said the celebrations are generally safe.
The celebrations do seem mostly harmless, but there have been at least a couple of incidents in the wake of Spurs wins. After Game 1, fans reportedly began throwing empty beer bottles at police officers on SW Military Drive. Police stepped in with pepper balls after fans began shaking a van. The second post-win incident involved several fans who knocked a man unconscious on Commerce Street after Game 3 on Tuesday.
Tonight I heard a fan suggest to a group, “Let’s tilt a car!” The suggestion seemed to be made in jest, and thankfully, it was met with disinterest. Most San Antonians celebrate the Spurs without losing control or using the moment for expressions of darker behavior. It would be a shame for San Antonio to ever lose control, and with it, the city's laid back reputation.
There is another practical issue posed by the celebrations. It slows transportation downtown—and not just cars. Arely Gonzalez was waiting bus stop after her shift at the Whataburger on Commerce Street, when someone told her the pickup point had been moved a few blocks away. “Bummer,” she said, mildly annoyed.
The Spurs do unite San Antonio unlike anything or anyone else, and the SAPD does a good job of trying not to crack down on these sometimes over-exuberant public displays. During the celebration the police are visible, but for the most part silent guardians. They have been speaking to media about ways to more safely celebrate Spurs wins downtown.
Shortly before 11:30 p.m. it began to drizzle. Some scattered after the rain started to pick up. Others just took off their shirts. After all, what’s a little rain to the best fans in the NBA?
Alice Connally, who “(loves) everything about the celebrations” and comes downtown after every big win, was particularly pleased to see fans continue in the rain: “Even when it’s raining, they don’t care.”
By 11:45 p.m., however, the rain had become a deluge, and only the boldest fans braved the streets. One fan could be heard protesting his friend’s suggestion that they go back out on the street to celebrate: “F--- that. I ain’t trying to get struck (by lightning).”
The rain increased in intensity as midnight struck and finally put an early end to Thursday night's festivities tonight. Nothing short of a natural disaster will keep fans off Commerce Street come Sunday evening if the Spurs keep their date with destiny and seal the deal in Game 5.