Watching Spurs CEO R.C. Buford beam as he presented the nearly-completed Victory Capital Performance Center may not have been the point of Wednesday’s media tour — but it felt like a point.
Next Tuesday the Spurs will kick off training camp for the 2023-24 season in their new practice facility on the city’s north side, as part of The Rock at La Cantera development. Other aspects of the $500 million campus —such as planned medical spaces, restaurants, hotel and plaza open to the public— will be ready later in the year or in 2024. On Wednesday, the team afforded members of the media a look at the state of the near-final product, as well as the process and inspiration that sparked it.
Buford, along with Communications Director Phil Cullen, began with the topic of sports science, an area in which the Spurs have long been considered leaders. Buford said it was following the 2014 NBA Finals that the team realized improvement was necessary if they wanted to stay at the forefront: “Sports analytics, hydrotherapy, sports science had all advanced in ways that our building couldn’t activate at the highest level.”
Cullen, who arrived in 2016 and spearheaded the project’s concept and design phase, added that the international “player care model” of sports science regularly includes sports medicine physicians embedded within the same building, something the Spurs sought to add and what helps lend the “performance” theme to the entire complex. Their process involved delineating what that meant through visits to over 250 different facilities around the world, as well as conversations with a range of employees and stakeholders in attempting to translate the franchise’s history and values into brick and mortar.
As you’d expect given the time and resources afforded to it, the result is impressive, beginning with the approach to the building via the appropriately named Championship Drive, just a stone’s throw from Six Flags Fiesta Texas. (The old grounds, for all their virtues, seem almost intentionally nondescript.) Natural light floods nearly every space, including the hydrotherapy area which, Cullen said, is often the darkest and dampest rooms of a sports building. And that feeling is part of the point, as well, as Cullen noted. “We designed this space to have a sense of awe.”
The Spurs DNA is present throughout the building, from the hallowed Jacob Riis quote to historic photography, odes to the city and surrounding areas (like Uvalde), and considerations for the sizes of offices and showers (the same for all employees), dimensions for toilets and taping tables (larger and taller, for larger and taller humans) and details that subtly drive human interaction, as well as the “breaking of bread” that Gregg Popovich has long valued.
The importance of interaction extends outside of the walls with the decision to build the new Spurs HQ in a communal and retail space. Although the Spurs have typically been a tad selective in their level of exposure to the public, that idea of creating a “connector” to the community, Buford said, was another priority, and the Spurs intend to use the ample space in the Rock and nearby green spaces to create new touchpoints with fans. That includes watch parties in the plaza which, the Spurs estimate, could accommodate as many as 5,000 people. As San Antonio continues to push its brand beyond the city limits, it will be invaluable to have a large, team-controlled venue, especially in a more accessible part of town.
And while the idea of a new base of operations predates the Wembanyama Sweepstakes, the timing aligns perfectly as the team ushers in a new era: Games hosted in Austin and Mexico City. New color schemes. A reshaped ownership group. A youth movement up and down the roster and, sure to follow gradually, in the grandstands. Even Buford’s role changed in 2019, giving way to new blood in Brian Wright as GM. It all feels like a singular turning of the page for an organization that’s been content to play things conservatively.
Buford, now 63, paused at a wing of the facility with floor-to-ceiling windows at one point of the tour, aptly silhouetted by the construction crew working away behind him. For the arc of the remaining Old Guard, beginning with him and Pop, it’s another milestone to see the franchise pass. The Rock at La Cantera may just be a short drive up I-10 from their previous facility, but it’s clear the Spurs have come a long way.