Greatness Examined: The Spurs

As a lifelong basketball fan, I tuned into the NBA playoffs a week ago when the Spurs took on OKC.  For the Spurs it was win or go home and many speculated it could be Tim Duncan’s last game. At 40 years old, Tim has made a huge impact on me as an athlete. Not because of the way he dominates the power forward position or his 5 championships, but rather because of the way he handles himself on and off the court.

In the fourth quarter the Spur’s where down 25 points and hadn’t played well all game. To the average bystander they couldn’t match the athleticism of OKC… I mean they have two players that are 40 years old! Well in all honestly, they were a lot slower and didn’t make nearly as many athletic plays; however, they had one of the best regular seasons in history at 67-15. This accomplishment was overshadowed by Golden State, but the fact of the matter was that the Spurs were a great team… no an amazing team! Most would have turned it off in the fourth quarter thinking the game was over, but I have learned you can never count out a team with character – especially one led by Greg Popovich and Tim Duncan.

Sure enough, they made an incredible comeback and got it down to 6 points. I was in awe but not surprised.  Despite the epic comeback, they lost the game but it made me reflect on the Tim Duncan’s career, why the Spurs are good year after year, and why they always seemed to fly under the radar.

Recently, Coach Pop opened up to the media and said this about what he looks for in players:

"For us, it's easy. We're looking for character, but what the hell does that mean? We're looking for people — and I've said it many times — [who] have gotten over themselves, and you can tell that pretty quickly. You can talk to somebody for four or five minutes, and you can tell if it's about them, or if they understand that they're just a piece of the puzzle. So we look for that. A sense of humor is a huge thing with us. You've got to be able to laugh. You've got to be able to take a dig, give a dig — that sort of thing. And [you have to] feel comfortable in your own skin that you don't have all the answers. [We want] people who are participatory. The guys in the film room can tell me what they think of how we played last night if they want to. [Former Assistant GM] Sean Marks would sit in on our coaches' meetings when we're arguing about how to play the pick-and-roll or who we're going to play or who we're going to sit.
"We need people who can handle information and not take it personally because in most of these organizations, there's a big divide. All of the sudden, the wall goes up between management and coaching and everybody is ready to blame back and forth and that's the rule rather than the exception. It just happens. But that's about people. It's about finding people who have all of those qualities. So, we do our best to look for that and when somebody comes, they figure it out pretty quick."

I don’t know about you, but these words are inspiring. Here is what I took from it.

1.    Character prevails in the long run:  The Spur’s accolades speak for themselves so I am not going to list them, but Pop assembled a team of men that bought into his philosophy of team basketball. The all were great teammates, celebrated each other’s success as if they were their own, and seemed to play for something greater than themselves. In pro sports, being selfish to promote your individual stats seems like a solid strategy to increase your worth and continue to play a sport as a job… but these guys proved that being selfless can win championships, create franchise players, and sustain greatness!

2.     Be humble: Get over yourself. That is what Coach Pop is basically saying. We all have our strengths and weaknesses but when egos dominate a team environment everyone suffers.  As a pro myself, I guarantee I would enjoy life much more playing for the Spurs versus Cavs (or any team where individual play is a priority). We are all naturally selfish, but being in a selfless environment is uplifting and enjoyable in so many ways. You may fly under the radar like the Spurs but you will still reach the top of the mountain… and stay there!

3.    Play for something bigger than yourself: Maybe it is the team, your family, or God. When you play for something bigger than yourself and you have an unbreakable “why,” the sacrifices it takes to become great are minuscule. More importantly, you may just find fulfillment and purpose that isn’t dependent on how many points you score or how much money you make.

I love what the Spurs stand for. At Pro Performance, we believe your path to greatness is built on a foundation of character. Look at Tim Duncan and the Spurs for proof.

PS: If you read this Tim, I hope you play another year!