What began as a surefire path to the NBA Finals last season for the San Antonio Spurs ended with an unexpected rampart.
They ended the strike-shortened regular season with ten straight wins, and doubled up into the postseason with sweeps of the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers, respectively, plus two wins in a row against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. The twenty-win continuum was enough to surpass the Los Angeles Lakers’ record of 19 straight games won starting in the regular season and ending in the playoffs. The Spurs fell just short of that record in 2004 (17 games) but the twenty-game overall streak put them over the top.
Yet they were unsuccessful at reaching the pinnacle of the NBA playoffs.
Unfortunately for the Spurs, Thunder rumbled.
A rumbling to the tune of four straight wins, eliminating the Spurs, and deterring them from an appearance in the NBA Finals that seemed like such a lock when the playoffs began.
Perhaps the most stunned person in San Antonio after the Spurs’ collapse was Mike Taylor, who recently celebrated his fifth anniversary as host of the afternoon drive program, “Sports Talk San Antonio,” on KTKR/”Ticket 760″, and has also hosted Spurs programming for KTKR’s sister station 1200 WOAI, the 50,000-watt blowtorch he jokingly refers to on the air as “the big brother down the hall.”
Taylor relocated to San Antonio after spending years as a sports radio host in Dallas. (Like Taylor, the Spurs themselves are also Dallas transplants: did you know that for the first six years of their existence, they were known as the Dallas Chaparrals?) And even though he has yet to witness the team winning a championship as a member of the local media (they last won it all in 2007), he has seen them clinch their division for three out of five seasons – including, of course, the most recent one, where they finished with a 50-16 regular season record, tied with the Chicago Bulls, who clinched overall home court advantage by virtue of a better record against opponents in their division (13-1).
But once the Spurs started putting together a double-digit streak of wins, Taylor knew he was seeing something special. He thought that this could be the year the team could win their fifth NBA title.
He had enough confidence that he could practically swear to God that the Spurs would get it done.
In a word: The rosary.
“The Spurs had a season that I don’t even think they thought they could have,” Taylor told me. “So I think the rosary served its purpose.”
By now, you’ve probably seen or heard Bud Light’s current advertising campaign fabling football fans and their bizarre superstitions tied to the love and support of their favorite teams, all as the classic Stevie Wonder hit “Superstition” is heard behind them.
I think Bud Light, which coincidentally holds the sponsorship rights to the “Ticket 760” broadcasting studios, might have a premise for a new commercial on their hands, if they wish to foray their ad campaign into the NBA.
On one afternoon, as the Spurs were preparing for their playoff run, Taylor was broadcasting an edition of “STSA” live from a local establishment (or as regular listeners to his show would say, “the muskrat rule is in effect”) when he was paid a visit by “a fine everyday listener – one of those kind you never actually want to meet, because it would take away something cool.”
But it was what the listener transported to Taylor that was cool: a rosary, blessed by none other than Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican – that according to the Catholic church in town that the listener got it from.
“It smelled like the Pope, so I took it at face value,” Taylor said.
And so, during the first two rounds of the NBA playoffs, as the Spurs racked up win after win against the Jazz and the Clippers, and added to their overall winning streak that started April 29 against the aforementioned Jazz, Taylor would get on the air every day after a game and tell listeners how the Spurs are “[number of wins in the playoffs]-and-0” while that rosary was in his possession.
“There have been so many bits that just seemed to present themselves to me,” Taylor explained, “and the timing of the rosary and the streak just added to the pile. Luck has played a huge factor into it all… It just seems like things have fallen into place for me here.”
Further adding to the rosary “bit,” Taylor pointed out that ever since he started doing sports radio in San Antonio, “I have always joked that God loves STSA.”
So the fact that the Spurs didn’t win the title (for those of you who spent the summer under a rock, LeBron James finally got that ever-elusive NBA championship with the Miami Heat), let alone never advanced to the NBA Finals, and to be bounced from the playoffs by losing four straight games after starting the postseason with ten victories in a row, does that not somehow taint or curse the rosary?
“No, the Spurs didn’t win the title, but that wasn’t the essence of the bit,” Taylor recalled. “It was a rally cry that gave people down here, who have all but given up on another title, hope.”
Taylor likened his rosary to the fascicle of T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase “I Want Some Nasty” that circulated around San Antonio after Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich uttered the phrase during a timeout in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Pop’s “nasty” pep talk inspired the Spurs to rally from a nine-point deficit to defeat the Thunder – their penultimate win of the season.
“Americans get so wrapped up in winning a championship,” Taylor said, “that they lose sight of the fun you have during a run like that.”
Getting back to superstitions: The Dallas Cowboys, another team Taylor talks about frequently on the air, possess a superstition of their own. Have you noticed how the team rarely, if at all, wears dark blue jerseys during home games? Apparently, it’s tied to a loss to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl V. When the team opened Texas Stadium the following season, they started exclusively sporting white uniforms – and by the way, they returned to the big game that year and beat the Miami Dolphins for their first of five Super Bowl championships.
All of this may have been before Taylor’s time – but he remembers a couple of Mavericks fanatics with their own superstition.
“There was this young man who would dress up like a lunatic Mavs fan, along with his fiancee,” Taylor recalled. “And they’d score free tickets to every home game because of their silly costumes.
“They somehow got it in their heads that if they ever got married, Dallas would never win a title. And they would certainly tie the knot, but not until the Mavericks won the thing. They went through all the playoff heartbreaks together, staying engaged and never planning a wedding.”
And when Dirk Nowitzki and company won the franchise’s first championship in its 31st year of existence, there were millions of sighs of relief around the Dallas Metroplex – none bigger than two particular individuals, I’m sure.
“I thought about those crazies the night the Mavs won in Miami,” Taylor said. “Actually got a little misty eyed.”
So the Larry O’Brien Trophy does not stay in Texas for another year. But the San Antonio Spurs will be looking to exact revenge against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, Thursday night at the AT&T Center.
Mike Taylor may or may not have the rosary in his possession when the Spurs’ 2012-13 season starts. But he’ll most certainly be carrying around one personal good luck charm.
“I carry around a picture of my dad from when he was, like, 6 or 7,” Taylor acknowledged. “He’s such a sports fan, and I think I decided to get into this business to make him proud of me.”
By hosting the most popular sports radio show in San Antonio, the self-appointed “Mayor of Sports”, is definitely making many people proud.
And, of course, Jesus Christ.