When the final horn sounded on Monday night at the FedEx Forum in Memphis, it signaled an end to the season for the Memphis Grizzlies, and the beginning of another chapter in an already compelling story for one man and the franchise he helped build.
That man is Tim Duncan and the franchise is the San Antonio Spurs.
I'll be honest. I don't pay attention to the NBA for 90% of the season. That includes what I consider my favorite team: the San Antonia Spurs. Now, that may be a loose definition of a "fan", but I've been the same type of "fan" since I was a kid. I jumped on the bandwagon when the Spurs won their first championship in 1999 with the "Twin Towers" David Robinson and Tim Duncan. Since that first championship the Spurs have set the standard for sustained excellence. And yes, there is a difference between success, dominance, and excellence. The Spurs are excellence.
The difference between the Spurs and every other NBA team is as evident as their four championships. It starts at the top with the ownership, is formed and molded every day with their coaching, and is displayed by the players on the court. In fact, Forbes magazine recently named the Spurs the North America's Best Run Professional Sports Franchise. If you think about it, they are a "boring" basketball team from a small Texas town with no other major professional sports, no major stars. But they win, and win, and win. And they do it the right way.
Why? What's their secret?
Excellence. I would propose that the reason why the Spurs are excellent is the same reason how they are excellent. Their coach, Greg Popovich demands excellence from his players. Tim Duncan, one of the greatest players - if not the greatest player - of his generation demands excellence from his teammates, and the rest of the organization follows suit, and visa-versa.
This culture of excellence can be traced back to Hall of Famer David Robinson, the Spurs' former franchise player. Few professional athletes in history can match Robinson's level of achievement. During his 14-year career he amassed two NBA championships, an MVP award, rookie of the year honors, a scoring title, 10 All-Star appearances, NBA and franchise records galore in blocks and points, and an Olympic Gold Medal. But even with all these accomplishments, Robinson never ceased to exude excellence, a trait that has continued within the organization he spent his career with.
Here's a challenge that I admit is hard: name the Spurs' starting five players. Ok, I'll make it easier. Name four of their starters. Still can't do that? Ok, name three. Two?
If you can't do that, here's a different question: name the Spurs' three most recognizable players. If you're at least somewhat familiar with the NBA this should be simple: Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili.
Notice the difference in the question?
This is the reason the Spurs are my favorite NBA team. Perhaps more than any other organization, I don't need to know the names on the back of the jerseys to know everything I need to know about the team. They truly represent what a "team" is supposed to be. The players willingly sacrifice themselves if it benefits the team.
For example, one of the most remarkable things about the Spurs is that one of their best players, Manu Ginobili, isn't even a starter - a role he accepts willingly because it's best for the team. Tim Duncan, the Spurs' new franchise player, has never played for another NBA team, and not because he couldn't have. Most NBA teams would pay handsomely for a 6'11" NBA MVP, Finals MVP, and All-Star. But Duncan has forgone bigger pay days, bigger cities, and willingly chosen to say in San Antonio.
The Spurs are a franchise that prides itself on getting the job done.
They don't talk a big game.
They don't look flashy.
They don't make headlines.
They win championships. And if they don't win one now, they know they'll win one later. They aren't a "flash in the pan" organization. They do everything right year after year because they know that true success is not winning one championship, but doing it again and again.
I find a lot of lessons in my personal life from the Spurs organization and the players who've had a major presence on the roster for years. Life isn't about having one good day, week, month, or year. Life is a continued, sustained march towards excellence.
The only way to achieve excellence is to be excellent in every aspect of your life. Excellence doesn't happen by accident. It is a conscious, committed effort. It may take years to perfect, but anything worth doing is worth the time.