A Legacy of Greatness

spurs synergy picture

The 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs are arguably one of the greatest teams ever assembled, not just in basketball history, but in all of sports. The reasons range from obvious to subtle, but, in the end, it is their overwhelming team synergy that places them over nearly every other team that has hoisted a championship trophy.

The obvious reasons:

The Spurs boasted a 62-20 record during the regular season, including the 7th and 3rd best offensive and defensive ratings (respectively) in the league. More impressively, this record came in the Western Conference, where 10 of the 15 teams had over a 48% win rate. The Spurs destroyed the West, winning 38 out of 52 games against the NBA’s tougher conference.

In the playoffs, the Spurs finished 16-7 en route to their fifth NBA title in 15 years, dismantling the reigning champion Miami Heat in a 5 game series that left us speechless at San Antonio’s dominant team play and Miami’s frantic and disorganized hero ball.

During the playoffs the Spurs elevated their play, lighting up teams for over 106 points per game while holding the 2nd and 3rd best total offensive and defensive ratings in the entire playoffs.

The not so obvious reasons:

The Spurs’ are unnecessarily hated more than any other team, bashed for playing a boring brand of basketball that places emphasis on the fundamentals. In my opinion, their style of play is textbook, educational, inspirational, and the way basketball is meant to be played.

It is in their style of play that the Spurs are able to exploit their greatest asset. It is not their balanced and potent offense, their stingy defense, the years of championship experience, or even their ability to control the game in a variety of ways. The Spurs’ greatest asset is their brilliant synergy with one another and as a team.

In his book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success, Phil Jackson writes about how the five stages of tribal leadership translate to team chemistry and mentality, with stage five being the pinnacle of team play reserved for only the greatest teams (an honor he bestows to the ’96-’98 Bulls, arguably three of the greatest teams ever). A stage five tribe, Jackson writes, is the perfect team; they consider themselves a unit. They talk to people as a team, people view them as a team, and, most of all, they believe that “life is great.” I believe Jackson would absolutely consider the 2013-2014 San Antonio Spurs a stage five team.

The “life is great” mentality comes from a deep-rooted confidence in yourself and those around you, a certain comfort in knowing that as long as you stick to what you can do, the sum will always be greater than the parts that comprise it. Of course the leadership of a coach means everything, and with the Spurs, Gregg Popovich leads his team unlike any other coach. Popovich is a father figure of sorts, someone who brings the family together through trust of its’ figurative eldest members (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker) to lead by example.

Does it help that no one on the Spurs makes more than $12.5 million per year? Yes. While money shouldn’t change that much, it does intrinsically assign value and fame to players. When no player makes an astronomical amount of money and the highest paid players are your leaders, veterans, and stars, the entire team has a sense of respect and unity that is lost in the glitz and glamour of today’s NBA.

When you see Tony Parker drive to the basket and create space for an open floater, but then dish it to Ginobli for an open three, who then passes it to Danny Green for an even more open three, who then takes advantage of a spread out defense to throw it down to Duncan for an easy layup, you are witnessing textbook team play. And if Duncan should somehow miss, Leonard is slashing down the lane for a ridiculous putback jam that created many posters during the 2013-2014 playoffs.

The thing that makes this San Antonio team special, however, is that at any point in the sequence above, each player could have taken their open shot and everyone else would have reacted accordingly. Knowing your role is one thing, but knowing how your teammates play in their roles is everything. It is what separates the great teams from the greatest teams. Sure, magic can happen on any given night, in any given season, or even two back-to-back seasons. 11 division titles, 6 finals appearances, and 5 championships in 15 years is more than magic: it is a dynasty.

Data Courtesy of: http://www.basketball-reference.com/teams/SAS/2014.html

Paolo Santamaria 
Georgetown University Class of 2018

Connect with Paolo on Linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/pbsantamaria/
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