A Week with the Spurs Family
“They are from real life”, says the taxi driver on the way to the San Antonio’s Airport, at the end of my stay. We’re talking about the Spurs players. “You can see them in a grocery store or a shopping mall, always smiling for the pictures with the fans or signing an autograph”, he extends.
The human aspect is essential for the franchise and you can see that in all the components, from the stars of the basketball team to the last employee. This warmth isn’t common in the rest of the NBA world. Over the years, inside and outside the court, Spurs continue with the same group of talented professionals who work with excellence and humbleness, constructing this successful organization.
Marianela Oroño, Manu Ginobili’s wife, talks about the value that Spurs give to the persons involved in this big family: “When the team advance to Playoffs all the wife’s receive a present. Always with messages, like: ‘Without your company this is impossible’. These are little but very important things. They work with the details.”
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Gregg Popovich has paternal gestures to Tim Duncan during the media attention in “Black Jack Speed Shop”, TD's vehicle customization shop. Coach Pop just helps with the promotion of the new business. Another chapter in this symbiotic relationship.
Popovich isn’t interested in self-promotion and sometimes rejects some NBA’s rules. He prefers to work. The players respect his philosophy in the court: teamwork with a defensive emphasis. A persistent and consistent system based in the association of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker, the "Big Three." They’re on focus and there aren’t problems with teammates. They've won respect with rings and conduct.
Formerly in the U.S. Air Force Academy, Popovich knows how to be more flexible through the years. He’s on the 17th season, the longest tenured coach with the same team among the 122 franchises of the Big Four sports (NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL). Has led the Spurs to four NBA Championships (1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007). Named the 2003 and 2012 NBA Coach of the Year. Married to Erin, they have two children, Micky and Jill.
Another example of the President of Basketball Operations’ philosophy: “When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it but all that had gone before.” You can find this quote of Jacob Riis translated into different languages around the Spurs Practice Facility and the AT&T Center.
AN ORGANIZATION FOR ENTERTAINMENT
San Antonio is the 7th most populous city in the United States of America, with 1,327,407 people according to the 2010 Census. However in the list of Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) falls to the 25th position. The city has a strong military presence and also very important medical centers and financial services.
Spurs Sports & Entertainment owns and operates the San Antonio Spurs (NBA), San Antonio Rampage (American Hockey League), Austin Toros (NBA Development League, last championship), San Antonio Silver Stars (WNBA) and also manages the operations of the AT&T Center.
Monthly there’s a meeting with the staff of more than 250 employees, headed by Rick Pych, President of Business Operations (second behind CEO Peter Holt). The managers of the different areas provide the company with updates. Meanwhile they have breakfast in a relaxed atmosphere.
They are a lot and they are like a big family. All the people have identification, they are people with name, not just numbers in a big company. “Great attention is given to human resources as we believe they are our most important asset. It isn’t so common. We’re happy working at this way”, says Tom James, Senior Director of Communications and Public Relations.
“Others franchises just have the basketball team so they’re less employees, for example in Oklahoma they’re 60”, resumes Mitch Heckart, third in Communications Department (behind James and Kris Davis) and from the Thunder’s city.
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ALL THE FACILITIES
“Everyday we're working for the fans. We have to help them and they have to enjoy the show”, said Ben Hunt, Interactive Content Manager. At the “Social Media Night”, a special event for the followers of Spurs’ social networks, they make a package with ticket discounts, limited-edition t-shirts and the exclusive pre-game courtside experience with the shooting guard Danny Green.
During the timeouts and the intervals there’s always activity in the court or with the LED video board in the middle of the arena. The show must go on, with music, videos, the Silver Dancers and also a wonderful group of grandma’s dancers.
The AT&T Center never stops. In six days there was a Justin Bieber show, a wrestling show and three NBA’s games. Often the wooden floor is changed for the ice rink for the San Antonio Rampage. And the building also must be converted for the popular San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, with Animals & Agriculture.
Under the spectator stands, in different levels, there are offices, press rooms, conference rooms, locker rooms, restaurants, fan shops, games and family rooms with babysitters. Where Dante and Nicola Ginobili are always playing there.
The Spurs Practice Facility is another amazing site. The general manager RC Buford, spends a lot of time there. They have video editing room, pool, massage room, jacuzzi, gym, two training courts, locker room, press room, kitchen. It's the best facilities for the players. They have everything they need.
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LOVE FOR GINOBILI
San Antonio is the most international team, with Tim Duncan (Virgin Islands), Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nando De Colo (France), Emanuel Ginobili (Argentina), Tiago Splitter (Brazil), Patrick Mills, Aron Baynes (Australia) and Cory Joseph (Canada). From the organization they feel proud with thousands of fans around the world.
In United States a lot of people heard about Argentina with the basketball’s Golden Generation. “Manu’s country”, is the answer in San Antonio when I say “Argentina”. It’s the same in my country. All the people know the Spurs.
Around San Antonio there’s always a fan that knows Manu and ask for a picture or an autograph. He never has problems. He always talks with the journalists too. So everybody loves his character.
The shooting guard is always communicating with his family and friends and know all about the Argentine National League, his first professional competition, used as impulse for this great present of the discipline in Argentina. Manu also know all about Bahia Estudiantes –the team of his city, Bahia Blanca- and about the team mates of the National Team.
The 2nd position at the 2002 FIBA World Championship in Indianapolis, the gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and the three NBA’s rings of the Spurs with Manu Ginobili were the most important things for a revolution in Argentina. More journalists talked about basketball. A lot of children started to play basketball. And they all love Manu and the Spurs.
Take care of the people. That’s essential for the Spurs. They’re all happy and motivated. This big entertainment machine doesn’t fail. The NBA is an amazing show, within the lights and the money, the Spurs, like few more, have priority in the sense of belonging and the good conducts. They found their glory in working together. During my week in San Antonio I saw some secrets of one of the most successful sports franchise around the world. I should like to express my gratitude and many thanks to the Spurs family, you’re so generous. It was an unforgettable experience.
Rodrigo García Squetino is the Director of Communications of the Argentine Basketball Federation (CABB). As press officer of the Men's Senior National Team he was in the FIBA World Championship Turkey 2010, FIBA Americas Championship Mar del Plata 2011 and the Olympics Games London 2012. In addition he’s commentator of Euroleague for Latin America for DIRECTV Sports’ channel. Previously he worked in the Argentine National League and the newspapers Ole and La Voz de Bragado. In January, 2013 he was for a week in San Antonio, learning the Spurs’ working method.