NBA Coach of the Year Gregg Popovich and Executive of the Year candidate R.C. Buford have enjoyed the spoils of success for the last decade and a half, but not all of it was a result of self-teaching. Though the Spurs surely have done it their way in creating the premiere model for success in a small professional sports market, they picked up bits and pieces from organizations who have been successful before them without basking in the glow of the bright lights and giant TV contracts. For Pop and R.C. it was the Utah Jazz who provided the blueprint (at least partially) for what we see in San Antonio today.
We all know the story of the Spurs prior to the current regime's arrival. You know, the team without Larry O'Brien trophies prominently displayed in the AT&T Center? We also have seen what's come since: four NBA titles, the highest winning percentage of any team in the four major professional sports over the last 15 years and the winningest coach-player combination (Pop and Duncan) in league history. But all the while, before all the success the River City has seen, Jerry Sloan and the Utah Jazz were doing it in many of the same ways. (Unfortunately, they had to deal with some guy named Michael Jordan.)
"The success that we've had and Utah's had is really satisfying because it's come in small markets. People really appreciate it. The fans in both places are unbelievable," Pop said 75 minutes prior to tip-off. "We're the only games in town as far as the professional deal is concerned, and when you find an organization that does it with class like we found Utah doing it..."
Pop paused for a second, then shared the influences the Jazz have had on his Spurs.
"When we came here, R.C. and I wanted to do it as close as we could (to Utah). And that's not easy because they did it the right way, with a closed mouth," he continued. "They don't talk in the papers about things, there's no braggadocio, there's no moaning and groaning in the paper or talking about players in the paper or trades or anything. They do their work and go home.
"That's what we've tried to do. They set the tone and the example for that."
Tight-lipped, hard workers. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? For as long as Utah was winning games, the Spurs have created the same type of long-lasting success. And though the torch has long-since changed hands in the West, the idea of humility and blue-collar work ethic remains the same. This series might not get the highest TV ratings or the most highlights on ESPN, but if you were to write an instruction booklet on how to run an NBA team in a small market, Popovich and Sloan would be the first sources cited in the bibliography.
San Antonio will once again move on past the Utah (that is, of course, unless something wild happens), but the Spurs have the Jazz to thank, in part, for that.