“Hop in,” said a T-Rex waving a Spurs flag from the back of a black truck.
Wearing the dinosaur costume is Araceli Trevino, a 17-year-old student at Harlandale High School. She’s spent the past three years partaking in a San Antonio tradition after Spurs playoff wins:
Going honking downtown.
Riding in a truck next to a T-Rex, it’s easy to understand why the honkers come back after every win. There’s an unmatched energy from sharing in joy with thousands of strangers, exchanging high-fives and hugs and shouting “Go Spurs Go” well after the light turns green.
Commerce Street was empty with five minutes left in the fourth quarter on Thursday, except for taxi cabs and some tourists who have no idea what’s about to hit.
When the Spurs beat the Rockets to advance to the Western Conference Finals, the street erupted in a cacophony of car horns. Cars and trucks packed with fans filled the street, honking horns for three hours.
This was after the second round.
“It speaks to the incredible, passionate fandom that lives here,” said Frank Miceli, Senior Vice President of Sales & Franchise Business Operations for Spurs Sports & Entertainment. “San Antonians are honking because it shows how much they feel a part of the Spurs and this success. The passion is unparalleled.”
For fans, the only requirement is a car with a working horn. Other preferred accessories are a driver who is not easily distracted, Spurs flags, a boom box, and some strong vocal cords.
Cars clog up the middle lanes and slow down at lights to prolong the honking. They’re trying to get stuck in traffic. Celebrating in downtown San Antonio is neither fast nor furious.
While honking can be heard around the city, the two main areas are on Commerce and Market Streets running through downtown San Antonio, and on Southwest Military Street on the South Side.
“I really thought I’d see my parents downtown honking by now,” said Patty Conchas, a downtown resident who watched the festivities from Commerce.
Conchas’ parents are in their mid-70s.
Some fans choose to go in costume. There was a SpongeBob SquarePants, a bunch of Spurs Coyotes and some sort of head from the video game Minecraft on Thursday.
And one excited T-Rex.
“If we’re up in the fourth quarter, I’ll put the suit on,” Trevino said. “Nothing is more fun about Spurs wins than honking because everybody is out here having a great time.”
Trevino’s sister, Ashley Hernandez, sits with her in the truck, making sure she doesn’t fall out when they are moving.
“People get pretty rowdy when they see the costume,” Hernandez said. “They’re high-fiving and hugging, but we’re still in a moving car.”
After a solid 15 minutes of honking, it’s time to hop out.
“We’re going to South Military now!” Trevino said.
After that, Trevino will get home at about midnight. She said her first class starts at 8:20 a.m.
The honking ritual began in 1999, as fans leaving the Alamodome during the Spurs’ championship run converged with more San Antonians coming downtown to join in the fun.
The Spurs have reached the playoffs every year since, keeping the horns going and keeping downtown residents awake.
“There’s a woven nature to this team through the ownership group, the leadership of Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford and the way the players all contribute to the community,” said Miceli, who also serves on the Visit San Antonio Board of Directors. “It helps create the feeling of togetherness. Of camaraderie. Of family.”
Berlinda Arciniega Zuniga said her family has lived in San Antonio for more than 100 years. Wearing a Kyle Anderson jersey and a Silver & Black wig, she and her husband Tomas Zuniga said they go honking for every big game, and even have a table reserved for them at a downtown sports bar.
“We become united when the Spurs are in the playoffs,” Berlinda Zuniga said. “I think the heart of the team represents San Antonio more than anything, and we show our thanks by honking.”
For the bewildered tourists out for a stroll on the River Walk, they get a unique San Antonio experience.
Scott and Julie Vendrely were visiting from Indiana to see their Air Force Staff Sergeant son, Ryan. Watching with their cell phone cameras recording, they watched the celebration with big smiles.
“We were walking along and heard all the screaming and honking,” Scott Vendrely said. “I didn’t really know there was a game until then. We’re from a basketball state, so this is great. It’s a madhouse.”
Chris Lannon and Joe Nichols are visiting from Texarkana for the Texas Bankers Convention. They watched from behind a fence at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, amazed by the enthusiasm still going strong well after the game ended.
“People are just hopping into cars? I can’t imagine what it’s like in later rounds,” Nichols said. “I’m a Spurs fan and I know they love the team here, but I didn’t know it was like this. We might have to come back to town if they’re in the Finals.”
Those are some of the more understanding tourists. Others are losing a little sleep over the honking.
Some downtown hotels have posted notices for visitors that they may experience some honking if the Spurs win.
Gabe Garza, front office manager at the Westin Riverwalk, said some tourists who don’t follow basketball don’t comprehend how loud it can get after a win. They’re even more startled by the fact that the entire hotel staff is calm while there’s pandemonium erupting on the other side of the glass lobby doors.
“If guests get upset, we apologize and explain the situation,” Garza said. “But we can’t tell them it’s going to get any quieter. We have to hope they’ll understand.”
One of the loudest cars on the street belonged to Henry Garay, who bought a used school bus three years ago and converted it into what he calls the “Spurs Party Bus.”
Garay drove around a dozen family members ranging in age from 17-months to 50-years-old, blasting music and laying on the horn before they headed to the airport to welcome the Spurs back to town.
“We’re out here for the Spurs Family,” Garay said. “This is what being a San Antonian is all about. We’re out here together, we’re here for the Spurs and we’re here for each other.”
Have a Spurs Story to tell? Email Lorne Chan at firstname.lastname@example.org