The NBA Playoffs mean Hollywood types who once dutifully supported the now-hapless Los Angeles Lakers have shifted their focus to the hometown Clippers. Yet if they want a true lesson in Showbiz 101, those same agents, executives and stars crowding into Staples Center should really pay attention to the home team’s first-round opponent, the San Antonio Spurs.
Analogies between running a major sports franchise and a network or studio aren’t perfect. But to the extent the two overlap, it’s hard to think of an operation that better manages the mix of talent, super-sized ego and personalities than the Spurs, despite hailing from one of the smallest media markets in the top-heavy league.
Why have the Spurs so excelled, winning five championships, including four in the last 13 years behind the trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker? For the purposes of showbiz, the five-point formula breaks down as follows:
The stars. Unlike a lot of stars – who tend to hang on well past their prime – the Spurs’ standouts have been noteworthy for their willingness to pass the baton to younger players as they become ready. That began, actually, with David Robinson deferring to Duncan, but has been passed down with regularity since, including the shift this year to 23-year-old Kawhi Leonard. “It’s going to be Kawhi’s team,” Parker told the New York Times. “Timmy transitioned to Manu, Manu transitioned to me, and now it’s going to be transitioned to Kawhi.” And how many stars are willing to so gracefully recognize they’re no longer top dog without kicking up a fuss?
The coach. Gregg Popovich has been the Spurs’ coach for 19 seasons, longer than any other franchise in professional sports. Moreover, he’s held in such high esteem that he can generally treat the press like they all just crawled out of the prehistoric sludge, and they still fawn all over him.
For a TV counterpart, one need only look at CBS, where CEO Leslie Moonves took over the year before Popovich did and has kept the same core team largely in place since his tenure began. The results have been similar, except Moonves is usually less belligerent during halftime interviews.
The up-and-comers. As noted, the rising stars on the Spurs wait their turn, and exhibit respect for the leaders. If there is any chafing for a promotion, there’s little evidence of champing at the bit for it, perhaps because the hierarchy has been so well established: Do your part, play your designated role, and the rewards will flow to everyone.
The global strategy. The Spurs have maintained their success in part by finding talent from all over the world, boasting the most international roster in the NBA, with nine players who were born outside the U.S., including Europe, South America, Australia and Canada. As Hollywood has discovered, while the movies (and basketball) were birthed in the U.S., the market is now global, and it’s wise to develop talent from wherever one can find it.
Stability. While other teams (and studios) are seemingly in a constant state of flux, Spurs management has been defined by its steadiness and longevity – making changes, yes, but keeping the core of Popovich and the three main stars together and building around that foundation. That stability is both a part of the Spurs’ winning ways and a reason, frankly, why the team is often considered boring in media circles, inasmuch as they don’t produce the kind of drama that tends to follow, say, superstar LeBron James around in his travels from Cleveland to Miami and back again.
As this is written, the Spurs’ playoff fate is still uncertain, but how well they defend their title is hardly the sole litmus test for judging their enviable consistency over the years. So while the moguls who once ate up the NBA’s L.A.-based version of “Showtime” are focusing on San Antonio versus the Clippers, when it comes to handling high-paid talent, they should forget the Alamo and remember the Spurs.