SAN ANTONIO — When's the last time you hung out with 68,000 of your closest friends?
A horde of Spurs fans descended on the Alamodome on Friday to watch and make history, shattering an NBA attendance record that was set about 25 years ago. Despite the final score, it was a joyous celebration of not just a half century of the team playing in the Alamo City, but of the community of fans who love the team and each other through thick and thin.
Even Gregg Popovich admitted that he was excited to go out in front of a crowd that big.
"Yeah, it's pretty different. It's a situation where... do they sell alcohol?" he said with a grin. "People will be pretty fired up. It's just an exciting moment for everybody, there's nostalgia for everyone, but to have that many people in one building and be able to play in front of them is pretty damn exciting."
The Spurs had been planning to come back home to the dome all year to celebrate their 50th season in the Alamo City. San Antonio played their home games in the dome from 1994 to 2002, winning their first championship and hosting an All-Star game in that time along with a ton of other memories made in the cavernous space.
Sure, plenty of California transplants and Steph Curry fans showed up wearing their colors, but there could have been an AT&T Center full of them and they would've been heavily outnumbered in the dome. By the way it looked and sounded, the crowd was mostly puro San Antonio.
The party started out in the parking lot, where some members of Spurs Twitter gathered for a rare basketball tailgate. When I arrived, Selena was blasting on a stereo and the air smelled of spicy sausages and peppers wrapped in tortillas.
Dakota Mitchell has made Spurs-centric designs for a while, and what started as a fiesta-colored passion project has turned into a business with all sorts of merch that he sells through Campeche Collective.
"I grew up going to games in the Alamodome, I think the last time I've been to the Alamodome was my high school graduation, so it's nostalgic for sure," he said while serving up hot food for his family and some friends he was just meeting in real life for the first time. "I think it's a really cool thing that they're doing."
When asked about his favorite memory in the dome, his mind went to the Memorial Day Miracle which is tough to beat. He was about nine years old at the time, and fortunate enough to be in the building for it.
"I thought he was out of bounds," he said with a laugh.
Some were coming back to the dome after seeing many a Spurs game here, while others weren't even alive yet the last time they played here.
17-year-old Tyler Glasscock came with his mom, and they showed up with enough teal, pink and orange hair dye for the whole tailgate.
"I've been to many games at the AT&T Center, but this is a whole different vibe. There's so many people here, and I'm really excited to be a part of breaking this historical record," he said. "The atmosphere is gonna be so electric, and I'm really excited for it."
He's an aspiring sports journalist, and brought a camera to put together a video for his YouTube channel. He spoke about the community of Spurs fans that he got to connect with.
"It's so fun because you can find them really anywhere throughout the city. Especially knowing a bunch of people online, I've talked to most of these people via Twitter and the fact that I got to come out here and meet some of them in person and they're just as I expected. It's just a family, they were welcoming for everyone, not just Spurs fans but we were inviting Golden State fans to come join the tailgate," he said. "It's really something special about us."
For a generation of Spurs fans the Alamodome was a place where you could go see a game with your friends or family without spending an obscene amount of money, and that spirit was very much present when the team came back home to the dome. There were fans who snagged $10 tickets and just wanted to be in the building for a night like this.
Alyssa stopped by the tailgate, and she had committed fully to the Jeremy Sochan-inspired fiesta hair. When she got into the building she found herself close enough to the floor to meet Sochan and get an autograph and a picture with her favorite player.
Fans were given fiesta-colored filters for their camera flashes as they came into the stadium, and when it was showtime the house lights went down and the phone lights came up. The building was loud, and the visual created by all those people moving in unison will probably stick with everyone who witnessed it. You could see the beating heart of the Spurs' fanbase.
“That starting lineups is one of the coolest moments I've experienced ever," said Doug McDermott. "That was just such a good atmosphere. We knew Spurs fans would show out tonight just great to see everyone here and supporting us. It was a tough game but overall just unbelievable experience.”
"I loved all the, I don't know what it was, matches or lighters or phones or whatever the hell it was at the beginning of the game," Pop said.
Once the game got started the Warriors surged out to an early lead. The crowd popped a bit when Steph made a big shot, but not as loud as when Romeo Langford made a tough bucket.
The loudest moments had nothing to do with the game at all. The crowd went nuts when they saw Becky Hammon, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili on the big screen. They went crazy when fans playing the on-court games succeeded, and when the Coyote helped one of them win free Whataburger taquitos for everyone in attendance.
David Robinson came out in between the third and fourth quarter to announce the attendance for the game, getting another big rise out of the record-setting crowd.
"I have the pleasure of announcing that once again, you've set a new standard for the NBA. Tonight's attendance is a record for an NBA game with 68,323!"
The Spurs played well to start the second half to cut their deficit to six, but then a Warriors avalanche ensued. Golden State wound up building their lead to almost 40, but the fans in the stands proved that the game was an afterthought at that point. Someone started a wave in the fourth quarter that made its way around the packed Alamodome about a dozen times.
The home team lost by 31, but the fans and players shared a surreal and historic experience.
“The fans seemed to enjoy themselves even though we were getting our ass kicked," Popovich said after the game. "They seem to be having a hell of a time so there must have been a lot of beer sales.”
(There were large crowds on the concourse for most of the game, for what it's worth.)
“I was just talking to the guys in the back saying I don't think any NBA city would be able to do this but San Antonio. We have a special support system here and it goes a long way,” Tre Jones said after the 144-113 loss to Golden State. "I can't say thanks enough the whole city of San Antonio for the support they continue to give us no matter what, especially on a year like this… we're not winning as many games as we want to be winning but they still continue to come out and support us every single night.”
Jones spoke to the fans before tipoff, and said he might have been more nervous for that than he was for the game itself. He also got to share the moment with his family, and with his young daughter.
"It means so much to me... she's only two so she won't remember this, but to be able to have pictures and be able to tell her in the future and even show her that she was able to be at these events, it means a lot to me and my family," said Jones. "She was a little bit scared with all the people and noises and everything, but she she had to be here and be a part of history as well."
Keldon Johnson also had some people special to him in the record-setting crowd. His mother was celebrating her birthday, and one of his old coaches made the trip.
"The Spurs fanbase made this so amazing man. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it's probably number one on my list. I'm actually speechless," he said after the game. "When we were warming up I'm looking around like, 'dang, they're really here for us.'"
This wasn't the result the team was hoping for, but Pop has been a part of some big wins at the Alamodome too and those are not the things he reminisced about. It was about getting to see his former player in Steve Kerr, and getting to see people he hadn't seen in a while like Avery Johnson.
"Those are all moments that you cherish, and as I said, relationships that you cherish," he said. "What can be better than that? Somebody got beat back door, somebody didn't block out, somebody shot a bad shot, who gives a s***? But people's children, what they're doing with their lives, they become coaches, they become businessmen, you know like Avery and David or whoever. Sean (Elliott) becomes a lazy commentator. It's just fun to see all that, that's the real satisfaction in this. Everybody wins, everybody loses, and life goes on. You all do the same, your relationships with your family and your friends are more important to you than this."
The Spurs and the 68,323 people who came out to the Alamodome on Friday night to see them make history, but more important than that, they made memories with their friends and families that will last a lifetime. That's what this was a celebration of, more than anything else.