The San Antonio Spurs are the most successful NBA franchise in recent history. They have been in the playoffs for the past 17 straight seasons, winning 11 division championships, 5 conference titles, and 4 championships. In terms of titles, the Spurs are 4th behind the Boston Celtics (17), Los Angeles Lakers (16), and the Chicago Bulls (6).
Despite an ageing core, no big-name stars, and a relatively stingy budget, the Spurs managed to finish with the NBA’s best record (again) and now find themselves (again) in the Western Conference Finals. No other team has had much success on a consistent basis over the period. Here is a breakdown of their formula for success:
SYSTEM—The Spurs’ basketball system is the envy of all. Over the past few years, they have been among the league’s best in offensive efficiency. How do they put up so many accurate shots without freaky athleticism? Simple. They play team ball, setting up screens, lots of screens to get the open looks. On the other end, they always keep the paint packed, maximizing the 3-second rule. The Spurs also shifts their defenders to the strong side automatically. This forces bad mid-range shots.
COACHING—Greg Popovich is the longest tenured coach (18 seasons) in American professional sports, winning 967 out of a possible 1,410 regular season games, an impressive 69% hit rate. All his players want to play for him not just because his system works but he genuinely cares for his players. Year-in and year-out, “Pop” has managed to whip together a winning team despite no high lottery picks and lack of talent. Case in point, only Duncan was a high lottery draft pick drafted No.1 overall a million years ago. Manu Ginobili (57th overall), Tony Parker (28th overall), and Kawhi Leonard (15th overall) were acquired with Pop’s nose for talent. He is one of the greatest coaches of all time.
CULTURE—A winning culture is what best describes the Spurs but that would be too simplistic. Divas and egos are not tolerated on the team. Kobe or LeBron wouldn’t last 10 minutes under Pop or the Spurs management because they treat all players equally from Tim Duncan all the way to Matt Bonner. Since all the players buy into this culture, there is no drama, no contract disputes, no coaching changes, and no players doing negative media interviews. Everyone is held accountable, even the front office personnel, and this culture has spawned something else—the Spurs feel responsible for one another.
LOYALTY—Expounding on my previous point, the loyalty on this team is quite impressive. You will never hear anyone on this team bad mouth another. You will never hear a player eager to leave for a flashier city. The whole organization is like a band of brothers, always watching out for each other and this shows when they play on the court. Hell, the Spurs even rank No. 1 in NBA fan loyalty.
If the Spurs reach the Finals (again), they have a real shot at getting their 5th title in the Pop-Duncan era. Another title will cement their legacy. All teams should take a good, hard look at the Spurs, they epitomize values that every team should have–teamwork, loyalty, and determination.