5 Rings In 3 Decades: How The San Antonio Spurs Reclaimed Their Winning Ways

san antonio spursIf you’re like me, you’re following the NBA Finals closely. If not, you should at least check out the compelling storyline that is the San Antonio Spurs and the back and forth nature of this championship series.

Neither team in this series, not the Miami Heat or the San Antonio Spurs, has won two games in a row.

The San Antonio Spurs are as old as dirt and are facing a Miami Heat team that is supposed to be comprised of athletically superior opponents: Lebron James not being the least of the bunch. The Spurs drafted Tim Duncan in 1997 when I was in middle school idolizing David Robinson and MJ. Yep, the Spur’s linchpin is really that old.

Each team’s health is suspect. DeWayne Wade of the Heat isn’t his young spry safe. And Chris Bosh is seemingly only half of a man. The Spurs are old, depleted, and keep fighting back, and are currently up 3-2 of this best of seven series.

The Spurs have their same core that won the NBA title back in 2003 (10 years ago!). They’re injured, creaky, haven’t been to the Finals in 6 years and somehow are in championship form. How did they do it?

1. Continuity

In an era where the NBA coaching carousel turns at an ever-increasing pace, the Spurs have managed continuity at almost every level.  (Of the NBA’s 16 playoff coaches this year, 8 of them have already been fired, resigned, or did not receive a renewed contract).san antonio spurs

Gregg Popovich is currently the longest tenured coach in all major US sports—not just the NBA. Tim Duncan has played for San Antonio his entire career. The general manager, RC Buford, has been there for over a decade. Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have been with Timmy and Coach Pop since the early 2000s. Even ownership hasn’t switched hands in ages.

Here’s what Gregg Popovich has to say about continuity:

“As you think about it, it seems like it would apply no matter what your business is,” Popovich said. “If you can have continuity, a good group, a team, so to speak, and all that that entails, and keep it in a continuous manner so that it grows more or less upon itself, within itself, and the knowledge and understanding continues to grow, you have a pretty good understanding.

“You can deal with adversity and you cannot get too pumped up about success but just enjoy it and realize how fleeting it might be. But the change, change, change, change, change thing doesn’t really work. You can see that in a lot of organizations.”*

Today we praise people who are adept at adaption. It’s certainly a needed trait to deal with adversity. But as a man, as a leader, if you’re in charge of a group or a family, throwing frequent changes at them will no doubt throw them off-balance.

Build some continuity into your culture.

2.  They have a process, and they believe in it.

san antonio spursThere’s Tim Duncan, processing, always processing. Many of basketball’s most exciting players are cerebral: Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Jason Kidd, geniuses who see 5 steps ahead of the game before anyone else sees step 2.

Once the processing is over and turns into drive and action, most of these super players translate those brainwaves into highlight reels. Except Timmy and Co.– they process in service of process; they’re using this information to refine, not to thrill. His team is consistently 5 moves ahead — possibly even 10 — but those paces are careful steps, not flights of fancy.

San Antonio is a working specimen–a living ideal–of how the world should be. The Spurs operate on the principles of flexibility and trust, on the idea that treating people like grown-ups isn’t just a nice thing to do, but a way of getting the most out of everyone. Who doesn’t want to root for this, because who doesn’t want to play on a team, work at a business, be in a family and live in a community where this is not uncommon but expected?

3. Trust in Each Other, and in their Leadershipsan antonio spurs

People don’t like to absorb blame, rather, pass it on. Seeking scapegoats is the leading sport of office huntsman north of the equator.

What has aided the Spurs culture to win 4 champions and be on the cusp of a 5th spanning 3 decades? Relationships that experience and exemplify trust. In each other and in their leadership.

4. No Bickering or Bitterness

The Spurs have experienced their fair share of drama over the years. Actually, no, they haven’t. A small market team without the media hoopla has helped them keep focused on what matters most.

Instead of reaching for stardom and battling for position like Shaq and Kobe, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have aided each other to multiple rings and are fighting for another.

Instead of being eaten alive by jealousy, they focus on the prize.

As men, we often desire the position of chief, and recognition as the Alpha. It’s time to set aside petty desires of prestige in our own little worlds. If the Spurs can stay humble on an international stage with these principles, we’ll do well to do the same.

Also, my prediction for the rest of the 2013 NBA Finals: Spurs in 7.

*Gregg Popovich quote: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nba–gregg-popovich–erik-spoelstra-criticize-nba-s-coaching-turnover-220003017.html. Retrieved 6/17/2013.

[Photo credits: Associated Press]
[Gregg Popovich photo credit: Getty Images]


  1. I hope they end up winning game six. I can’t stand the Miami Heat.

  2. It’s that teamwork you point out that carries them through their waning physical capabilities (relative to past years, of course), as you astutely point out. Agreed!

  3. I agre that continuity really goes a long ways in making a great team like the Spurs.

    I just hope the “old” guys on the Spurs don’t run out of energy.

    I think game 7 is a toss up. It will be the ultimate test for the Spurs to come back after such a tough loss in game 6.

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