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Decades of Dominance: What it takes to build a team like the San Antonio Spurs



The picture below was the Spurs motive for the NBA Finals.What everybody is wondering is how? How does an organization build a team like the San Antonio Spurs. A team that is a title contender, year after year for decades on end. The new, easier way to put a competitive team together is buy buying the players in free agency, hence the “Bought” side of the billboard, meaning the Heat. ISH writer Daniel Zimmermann wrote an interesting piece called “Do Superteams in the NBA really work?”, which expands on the idea that pertains to the Miami Heat. But, in my opinion, buying players to make “Superteams” aren’t really teams. They are as much of a team as the Eastern All-Star team is. What does it take to build a long-term, dominant, competitive team?

A Good Coach that’s there for the Long Haul

Greg Popovich is the coach that stuck with the Spurs. He took over the team in the 1996 season when he was the general manager and the head coach was terrible, he took over as coach. He built the team you see today in the NBA Finals, seventeen years later. Coaches like this need to stick with their team no matter what. Not the John Calipari, but the Jim Boeheim. Calipari committed multiple violations of the NCAA by allowing players to cheat on exams in order to be eligible. He then proceeded to leave Memphis for Kentucky and left Memphis to get screwed by the NCAA while he got off free. At Kentucky he has somewhat roller coaster years, going from winning the Championship to losing first round in the NIT to making it to the Championship again. So although he is a great coach, he is not what you are looking for in sustainability. The coach that will come in, no matter how bad the team is or how bad things get, they turn their program into a program of excellence. Mike Krzyzewski is another great example of this type of coach, who has been at Duke University, making them a title contender for decades, always a threat in March. The main reason why Coach K is one of these coaches is not only his years with Duke but also his resisting the Los Angeles Lakers job offer. He skipped out on bigger money, a bigger stage, and better players and stuck with the program that stuck with him. He coaches players to excellence, having 15 players that are currently on NBA rosters. Coach K has not only brought in 4 National Titles with Duke, but also has the most NCAA Division 1 wins in any sport of all time. Sure, Coach Spoelstra brought in Chris Bosh and Lebron James to create a super team. But, he simply got out coached in every aspect of the 2014 NBA Finals. The definition of excellence in a coach is sustained success.


Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan. Aka the Big Fundamental. The player that will get the ball in the post, back the defender down, and score in whatever way possible. Not the flashy player that will try to throw it down over a seven footer, but the reliable big man that will posterize and sink a hook shot in the paint. The way he plays may not be that fun to watch, but he does what he does for the sole benefit of the team. Tim Duncan has averaged a double-double for his entire 17 year career, which is the definition of reliable. A team needs a player that will play his game, and get the job done. Above is a video that shows the greatness of how the fundamentally sound Spurs team plays. That sports don’t have to be all about slam dunks and touchdown dances, that hard work and teamwork wins out.

Good Players filling the necessary positions

The Spurs have the three types of players that every basketball team needs. Duncan is of course the big man, that gets rebounds, is the center of the defense and gets buckets inside. Ginobili is the wing scorer, that is always an option on offense to either drive to the basket or pull up,  that can spark a run for the team. Parker is the facilitator, and he is the captain on the floor. Parker is the catalyst. Without him the play can never progress. He leads the team, starts the play, initiates movement and finds the open man. In basketball, if you don’t have a big man, you won’t get many rebounds and you will rely on perimeter shooting. In football, if you don’t have a decent Quarterback, you are not going to have success on offense. In baseball, if you don’t have a good pitcher, you will struggle to keep up on the scoreboard. The list goes on and on. The most important positions in each sport have to be filled by someone capable or else nothing will get done. The Vikings are a team that has arguably the best Running Back in the League in Adrian Peterson. However, they do not have a good Quarterback so last year they only won 5 games. It all starts with the main positions, and with the right Quarterback the Vikings could have success.

High Character Team-Players

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are the shining examples of true team players. They have all stuck with the San Antonio Spurs for over a decade, Duncan for almost two. They respect their coach and each other and make sacrifices for their team. One of the biggest problems in the NBA and NFL as of late is the players holding out over money, disrespecting their coaches and teammates and, in the NBA’s case, being selfish on the floor. (Warning: Language)

A prime negative example is Carmelo Antony. Throughout this season, on the Knicks, he has shown a lack of interest in playing on that team. He disrespected Coach Woodson multiple times, as shown below. He also didn’t seem to get along with, or even care about his teammates. Anthony does not have high character like the players on the Spurs. He will bring skills but selfishness and a possible bad attitude to the team he signs with next.


To build a team like the Spurs, you need to surround yourself with high quality players. Investing in players like Richard Sherman, who on his own accord is the “best corner in the league” could turn out to cause turmoil in the organization, as he caused an “offense vs. defense” fight early into minicamp. Yes he gets the job done, but he plays for himself rather than for the team. The Carolina Panthers have tried to go in the other direction, releasing Steve Smith, who was their all-time receiving leader but was a “distraction in the locker room”, and signing high character players in Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant, among others. The Panthers decisions this offseason may come as a surprise to some, but ultimately they may become successful in this new strategy they have undertaken in. To build an organization, one needs to invest in players that play for the name on the front rather than the name on the back.

A Stable, Patient Front Office

To build a team like the Spurs, an organization needs to have a manager (and owner) that is patient and willing to stick with a coach through difficult stretches or seasons. While the Spurs haven’t had many difficult seasons since 1997 the front office has remained patient with Coach Pop through their 7 year (2007-2014) stretch without a championship. But front offices will have to be a lot more patient than that, possibly not making any major changes through losing seasons as their players develop under a coaching system. Jerry Jones is not the most patient of owners and he is very involved in his team, more so than most owners. He puts pressure on the GM and pressure on the coach, and it seems like every Cowboys coach is on the hot seat each and every year. This is why the Cowboys haven’t been so successful in making the playoffs, and the few times they do they can’t take advantage of the opportunity. The opposite of this in the NFL is the San Francisco 49ers, who yes, made a coaching change a few years ago but it was clearly the right one, with Jim Harbaugh. Since the hire of Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers have made it to either the NFC Championship or the Super Bowl in each of the last 3 years. The 49ers have been a constant threat in the NFL that is always going to be a contender. This is an example of a front office that made a thought-out and conscious decision that turned out to be very beneficial.

No Excuses

Greg Popovich and the Spurs had nothing to say after they gave up last years NBA Finals. They knew what they had done, and they made no excuses about what had happened. They were up by 5 under a minute with the ball in Game 6 where they were about to eliminate the Heat. But, they gave it up, the game went into Overtime and they lost. Then in Game 7, they played their hearts out but still lost. They had their chance to take down the glorious Miami Heat, and they blew it. But the next season they but in hard work, put up the best record in the NBA, and managed to make it back to the Finals, where they would face the Miami Heat once again. The Spurs didn’t say anything about their loss, didn’t sugarcoat it at all. But they came back the next year and took what was theirs. The revenge and the build up from last season’s ending led to an absolute blow out of the Heat. They out coached the heat, kept up a relentless defense, shot lights out, played team basketball and defeated the Heat in every aspect of the game.

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