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Are The Spurs The Luckiest Team In The NBA?

We were lucky to have this guy. But were we lucky to GET him?
We were lucky to have this guy. But were we lucky to GET him?

I enjoyed reading Edg5's post about the Spurs front office and Pop, which we group together and acronymically lovingly refer to as PATFO. And while I completely agree with his overall point that we must have reasonable expectations of our front office and coach despite the amazing level of success they've had, there was something in his post that bothered me: the idea that luck alone made the Spurs who they are today.

In today's sports world, an immense amount of accolades is given to players, coaches and front offices for what often appears to be, fortuitous situations. When those conditions are something less than fortuitous, the cheers usually change to jeers in a hurry. For example: in American Football, the Quarterback postion is praised more than any other single postion in sports. Yet, football is arguably the MOST team oriented sport there is. You've got 11 guys running extremely choreographed plays against 11 other guys trying to stop them with their own very choreographed sets. So why is one guy given so much credit and accolades when a team wins (see: Tebow, Tim) and others so much blame when the team loses (see: Romo, Tony)?

This phenomenon is hardly unique to football. Basketball is a sport where single players are given, what seems to me, as much if not more credit or blame that he probably deserves. Of course, the argument in basketball is that there are only 5 players per team on the floor at a time, therefore one person has a vastly higher impact than do football or soccer players. A valid point to be sure, but one that hardly makes up for the amount of scrutiny paid one player per team. You see an athlete like Kobe Bryant who's argued to be one of the best players of all time, despite the fact that he has won all of his titles with elite teammates. Then there's LeBron James who has taken much less talented teams to the brink of titles only to fall short and yet he is castigated as a choke artist at best, or some type of miscreant at worse.

Of course the one aspect I haven't mentioned in all of this is the element of luck. Is Kobe Bryant a "lucky" player? Well, in a sense he is because he played for a team with resources and wisdom to surround him with great players, but then again he's also a very talented and driven man who ranks among the best to ever lace them up. How can he be both?

I believe that in sports, as in life, there is an element of fortune or providence most commonly known as luck. The thing that we as fans often fail to correctly allocate appropriately is this facet of luck. Sometimes we claim that a player, coach or FO is lucky when they have, in fact, put in more work than others and are simply prepared to make the most of the situations that present themselves and therefore appear to be lucky. And the opposite is true as well.

My main point is that Edg5, while giving the Spurs credit for their success, attributed their getting Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to luck:

I can't help but feel perplexed. The Spurs model was grabbing one of the top ten players of all time and then lucking into two unique talents (Tony helped usher the era of scoring PGs, and Manu's style is just indescribable) at the perfect time and surrounding them with amazine role players.

I believe that this is view to be pretty widely held among NBA fans, so this is not at all a directed toward Edg5. He just happens to have been the one who said it when I got the idea to write something about it.

• • •

I have always loved this quote:

Fortune favors the prepared. - Louis Pasteur

To me, this quote best explains those who are able to capitalize on the unique nexus of talent, work, dedication and opportunity. It applies to successful businessmen, card players, generals, writers, teachers as well as sports organizations -- like the Spurs. Fortune, or as I like to call it, providence, is something that is hard to explain or fully grasp. The thing about it though, when it comes to sport as well as life, is that it rarely happens to people who are unskilled, stupid and lazy. (The best example of success among the general population, is the lottery which highlights what happens when luck is combined with a lack of preparation.) When you see franchises that work hard, prepare well and have talent too, rarely do bad teams result. This is true in any sport.

The Spurs, if they're not the best, are at the very least among the elite in evaluating international talent. That doesn't mean that they were the first to do so, but they spent the time and money doing something that other teams didn't consider worthy of the effort, and it paid off for them in spades. The Spurs also took fliers on certain players that other teams passed by that ended up being key cogs in championship teams. Was there luck involved? To a certain extent, of course, but it was the fortune of the well prepared that has smiled upon our beloved Spurs, not some blind twist of fate that randomly decided to favor your favorite franchise for a decade or so.

Yes, the events that combined to allow the Spurs to draft Tim Duncan were at the very least exceptionally fortuitous. From David Robinson's injury, to the makeup of the team in 1997, to the bouncing of lottery balls -- everything out of the control of the franchise broke in favor of San Antonio. But that's not the end of the story, it was the beginning. And you can appreciate the fortune that the Spurs have enjoyed, while also understanding that it the rest of the story that's still being written could only exist, because there are smart, motivated and hardworking people that did the work to put the entire team together so that it could experience success.

And there's nothing the slightest bit lucky about that.