Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Beauty of the San Antonio Spurs Organization

I love basketball. To me it's an absolutely beautiful sport, even though I stopped playing myself recently. It was in 2011 that I started following the NBA. The next year, with the emergence of rookie Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs became my favorite team. What attracted me was their smart playing style, attention to detail and focus on the team. After a disappointing loss in the 2013 finals I was happy it was their time again in 2014, when they destroyed the Heat in five games on their way to win their fifth championship since 1999.

As a sports organization the Spurs have been crazy consistent. Since '98 they have made the playoffs every year and won about 70% of their games. Did they win the championship every year? No, but five times is not too shabby and for several other years they put themselves in perfect position to win it all. It makes it all the more impressive that their last first draft pick was in '97, Tim Duncan, and their other two core contributors have been a 28th and a 57th pick (Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili). Most will agree that based on their player roster they have been overachieving.

So, how come they're doing so well? Well, last week I saw the following video in which Spurs coach Gregg Popovich explains some of the team and player concepts that contribute to their success:

What Popovich quickly reveals is that it is not about their special 'System', be it offense or defense. Rather, it's about the "simple" stuff:

It's about getting the right people. People that have gotten over themselves. People that realize it's not about them or their stats but that it's about the team. People that enjoy themselves and can trust each other.

It's about being honest to each other. No room for political games or manipulation.

It's about accepting that people are who they are. You cannot just mold people to something they're not. "They am, what they am"

It's about treating your star players no different than your bench players. Having trust in your bench.

In the end, it's also about realizing that it's just basketball. There is more to life and realizing this helps you put things in perspective.

No magic, no secrets. Just hard work, discipline. Learn the basics, use your brain. It's the simple stuff. Doesn't mean it's easy to achieve.

Jumping to the point that I want to make here, is how amazingly applicable these same concepts are to any organization. At least, for sure they are in the company where I work as a developer. What the Spurs have achieved as a team I think should be the model, or at least inspiration, for all sports or non-sports teams. That is, a team where all members contribute big time in their own way. That includes the more junior members. A team that keeps going like an engine even when times are tough and frustration kicks in. A team where people communicate with each other and trust each other. A team that even though it might lack some firepower still delivers results.

As a developer it's not my primary responsibility to be concerned with stuff like this. Still, I consider it part of the job and also part of my personal interest. While I'm only still learning the very basics of this subject this Spurs video really resonates with me. To me it doesn't just end with the team you have. There is so much you can do to get them to work as a team. For example, make sure people have a role that fit their qualities and character. Make them responsible for that role and give them the freedom to contribute. Again, that includes less experienced employees. Have people that look beyond 'me', make them aware of the project and feel responsible for that. Put in the work and discipline, so prepare for meetings. Being able to provide constructive feedback and handle feedback from others, etc. It all sounds so simple but I honestly believe there is a lot of truth in it.

Of course, in no way am I an authority on this subject, just sharing some thoughts and learning myself :)

Well, anyways, watch the video and try to get your motivation out of it. I know I did. I also know that I'll be rooting for coach Pop and the Spurs again this coming playoffs. Cheers!

(update June 5th: well, unfortunately Spurs got their ass kicked by Oklahoma, let's see what Duncan and Ginobili will do and their roster looks like next year!)

(update June 20th: go LeBron!)

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