Five Things the Spurs Can Teach Us About Teamwork!
I was really rather amazed this year by the San Antonio Spurs. In spite of having the best record in the NBA they were rarely mention by sportscaster and prognosticators alike. They were the forgotten powerhouse. To most, they were to old, to boring, and to…well not the HEAT to win. Now, as much as I would love to make this a blog, blasting the HEAT and Lebron James, I just can’t. In spite of my disdain for them, did I mention I’m a lifelong Pacers fan, you can’t ignore that they’ve made it to four consecutive NBA Finals, and won two of them. That’s impressive, plain and simple. But, compare it to the Spurs, who since 1999 have won five titles, that’s a 33% title winning percentage over a 15 year period…Now that is amazing!
So, what can we learn from this ‘blue-collar’ team, that have been in the playoffs 24 of the last 25 years, captured 20 division titles, won 50+ games for 16 seasons straight, and had the same head coach for nearly 20 years? Well, here are five things:
- ‘Superstars’ can’t do it alone: Often we fall prey to the idea that if we just get this amazing guy on our leadership team, or on staff, or as a volunteer, that will make all the difference. And, for sure there is almost always an immediate impact. But, if you’re looking for sustained, long-term impact, it can’t be about just one guy. In 1997 the Spurs looked completely lost. Even though they had one of the best big men of all time in David ‘The Admiral’ Robinson, a perennial MVP candidate, they were consistently getting bumped out of the playoffs in the first or second round. It wasn’t until they drafted a young guy named Tim Duncan, that the Spurs began to take shape. David Robinson now had a teammate who could shoulder the burden alongside of him. In fact, Robinson made it his mission to mentor this young guy and help him become a top tier player in the league. Robinson even lessened his role intentionally so that Duncan could begin to flourish. Just two short years later, 1999, they were the NBA Champions for the first time.
- Old doesn’t mean finished: I honestly wish I had a dollar for every time that I heard the Spurs were ‘too old’ this year! The three main guys on the Spurs, Duncan, Parker, Ginobili, are past ‘their prime’. But, just like David Robinson before them, these guys had been mentoring the younger, fresher legs on the team. Taking a few less shots, allowing them to experience what it was like to carry more of the load. Just because you may be past your prime, doesn’t mean your ineffective. Might your role be changing, would you be more effective as a mentor than a major player, maybe. The bottom line is stop thinking you’re too old to be useful on a team.
- Teamwork beats star power every time: It was said that the Spurs offense was old, outdated, and boring. Their main offensive philosophy; pass the ball to the open man, in spite of who it is. Their belief was that the open man has a better chance at making a shot or a play than one of their big three in a double team. So, on any given possession you would witness 3,4, sometimes even 5 passes before a shot was taken. It was a completely unselfish ideal that every guy on the team had to embrace for it to be effective. In a league where isolation and one-on-one play is the course of the day, this type of offense seemed almost foreign. But to me, it was beautiful! You see when you play as a team, it’s not about your individual stat line as much as it is how the team did. Sure Lebron averaged a bazillion points and rebounds in the series, but the Spurs hoisted the trophy!
- Longterm success demands stable, consistent leadership: Greg Popovich may be the most boring interview in the history of sports! But, what makes him boring to a reporter makes him invaluable as a coach. He knows exactly what he wants to do, teaches it ad nauseum to his players, and demands that they run it with ruthless efficiency on the court. His players buy in to it because he’s proven it works. Sure, he makes tweaks here and there, takes input from his players, and makes in game corrections. But, his players know and trust him because he’s always headed in the same direction. As a leader sometimes you feel like you need to be perfect, but what is actually more important, is for you to be consistent. If as a leader of a team you are all over the place emotionally, or with ‘new ideas’ or vision every couple of weeks, you will quickly fatigue your team and they will quit trying, not because they don’t care, because they just don’t know where your going!
- Talk less, do more: There’s an old expression that goes something like this, “Those that talk about it rarely do it; those that do it rarely talk about it.” Basically, all of the hype, the fashion, the bling was all one-sided during the NBA Finals this year. The HEAT were the talk of the town, ‘Can they three-peat’, ‘Did you see what Lebron/D-Wade was wearing’, ‘Just how many tattoos does Chris Anderson have’. While people actually poked fun at the Spurs for their lack of fashion sense. The Spurs simply went about their business, no one talked about winning their fifth championship, or that if they won again that Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili would have won four championships together. They simply played their boring brand of basketball and won.
So, congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs, and thanks for the lessons in teamwork!