Spurs fans can’t even really complain about the last season that the team did not make the playoffs, Popovich’s first in 1996-97. The season was a bust at 20-62, but it gave the team the No. 1 pick in the draft, which turned into the star center Tim Duncan, who was a part of the first 19 of those 21 playoff teams.
Despite the impressiveness of the Spurs’ streak, it is not the longest in N.B.A. history. That still belongs to the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers franchise, which made the playoffs 22 straight times: every year from 1950 to 1971. The first season of the streak was also the Nationals’ first season in the N.B.A.; if you count their playoff berths in the ’40s in the old National Basketball League, the string runs to 25.
No other current major professional streak in North America matches the Spurs. In baseball, which lets only 10 teams in the playoffs, the Dodgers lead with a mere five straight. The Braves hold the record of 14 between 1991 to 2005 (assuming you don’t penalize them for the strike year when no playoffs were contested).
The Patriots are in a multiway tie for the N.F.L. record at nine, and can break it next season. The Penguins have 12 straight N.H.L. appearances, far behind the Bruins’ streak of 29 from 1968 to 1996.
Other notable streaks: The Edmonton Eskimos made the Canadian Football League playoffs 34 straight times from 1972 to 2005. The Los Angeles Galaxy of M.L.S. had a 10-season streak from 1996 to 2005. Kansas has an active men’s N.C.A.A. basketball tournament streak of 29, and Tennessee has made the women’s tournament every year it has been played, 37 in all, plus a run of five years in the tournament’s predecessor, the A.I.A.W.
There are good streaks, and there are bad streaks. After the Buffalo Bills finally made the N.F.L. playoffs this past season after a 17-year drought, they passed the torch to the Seattle Mariners, who have missed the baseball postseason for 16 straight seasons.