Currently, the NBA Conference Finals are taking place. In the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs are competing against the Oklahoma City Thunder. For many years, I’ve been fascinated by the play of the Spurs. Many teams have worked to find the one player who can help them excel. Just think about the self-aggrandizing spectacle that Lebron James went through to simply announce “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” Meanwhile, coach Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and the rest of the Spurs have simply quietly gone about their business.
From a recent tribute video about the way that the Spurs play and includes commentary from Magic Johnson, Popovich, reporters, and other NBA players, I gleaned a few principles about how they work together. It is amazing to hear the respect that is shown for the purity in which the Spurs play the game. In watching the video, I made the following observations.
1. Execute the plan. If you want to accomplish something, you can “wing it” or you can plan for it. But, most teams have a plan and the problem is they still run off the track. Not San Antonio. They are a disciplined group who knows what it takes to win and are willing to do it. As leaders, we need to do the hard work of not dreaming but doing.
2. Take the extra pass. Watching the Spurs play is an exercise in patience that always pays off. You keep waiting for someone to take a partially-open shot but they are waiting for something. They pass so effortlessly because they know their discipline will result in the opposing team’s breakdown. As leaders, we need to know how to continue movement beyond the opposition’s ability to keep up.
3. Selflessness always helps. In order to take the extra pass, one must be willing to help someone else seize an opportunity. Great leaders know that it is best when “we win” rather than when “I win.” The Spurs play with a fluid style of looking for the next open man on their team. It is a solid offensive philosophy because it causes chaos in the opponent’s defense. It allows them to maximize their shooting percentage by finding the best opportunity. As leaders, we can act in ways that both assists our team and breaks down our opponents.
4. Recruit the best no matter where they are playing now. In the video, it tells of the recruiting of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker; their three key players. Duncan came through the traditional route of university play and the NBA draft. However, Ginobili and Parker were recruited from the European leagues. When the Spurs were resetting the team for the post-David Robinson era, they decided to get the best teammates no matter where they were playing. It goes a bit against the grain because we think there are only a few places that churn out great players or leaders or staff members for the job. As leaders, we should look for the best fit and not the best origins.
5. Tenure matters. One of the reasons for the success of the Spurs is that you have a group of leaders, superstars, coaches, and an organization that values sticking it out together. Coach Gregg Popovich has been with the organization since 1996. Duncan has been with the team his entire NBA career beginning in 1997. Ginobili has played for the Spurs since 1999 and Parker since 2001. Being willing to stay with a team and a program seems almost impossible in the fast-paced world in which we live. The Spurs have done it because they have goals in mind and those goals take persistence. As leaders, you must commit to the long haul of directing your people to the preferred future.