Mental Training

Spurs Seven Virtues

Today we have a fantastic guest post brought to you by mental coach, Brian Levenson. Brian is a phenomenal coach who has helped/is currently helping countless different people from all walks of life to improve their mental game. He primarily works with athletes ranging from the youth to the professional level, but he also mentors business owners and even Jedi Masters, too. I think you'll really enjoy his post for today.

Spurs Seven Virtues

It’s been a week since the San Antonio Spurs were crowned champions of the NBA.  Since then, they have been celebrated as one of the best, most selfless teams in history.  Personally, I have never cheered for a team whom I had no allegiance/ties to, like I did for the 2013-14 San Antonio Spurs.  It wasn’t that I fell in love with the way one guy played, or marveled at the sheer talent of the players on the floor, instead I found myself grossly enamored with seven virtues that the team possessed.  As I dissect each virtue, think about your organization and how you may benefit from the Spurs way.

Virtue #1:  Can>Can’t

Of all the people in the Spurs organization, RC Buford may be the most underrated.  Buford is the architect behind a roster chalk full of what ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy called “heart guys”.  They are guys who are willing to dive on the floor for loose balls, take a charge, and be gritty enough to keep playing hard even when they are struggling.  When selecting those “heart” players the Spurs choose to look at what guys can do rather than what they can’t do.  As Buford reflects in this article about their draft process: “We get everybody in a room, and ask each other, ‘What can we do to help this player?’”  This not only crystallizes their decision making process, as they better understand a player’s potential, but it also helps them create an action plan to give that player the best opportunity for success.

Take a player like Kawhi Leonard, the recent MVP of the NBA finals, who was passed up by all the teams in the lottery, selected by Indiana at 15, and then had his rights traded to the Spurs.  The biggest knock on Leonard was that he couldn’t shoot.

From the well-respected NBA draft website, Draftexpress:

“Leonard is not only an average ball-handler, but he also struggles to make shots consistently from beyond the arc. His 0.743 points per shots on jumpers ranks 16th of 17 in the class, where he shot an abysmal 31% from the field. His struggles extend both to his catch and shoot jumpers (32%) and pull-ups (28%).”

But teams were forgetting one of the most important characteristics to acquire a new skill, Leonard was coachable; and the Spurs had just the coach to help him acquire the skill of shooting.  Chip Engelland is considered one of the best shooting coaches in the NBA, and he happens to be an assistant coach with the Spurs.  The Spurs paired Leonard with Engelland and the rest is history.

Spurs take can’t and turn it into can.

Virtue #2:  Honesty

Each player on the Spurs knows their strengths and weaknesses.  They are honest with who they are and are open to feedback from their lead general, Coach Pop.  Pop’s brutal honesty led to him writing, “DNP-Old” last year to describe why Tim Duncan wasn’t playing, admitting that during timeouts sometimes “I’ll say I’ve got nothing” as his players look to him for answers, and is part of the reason that he has the most brief in-game interviews with side-line reporters.

The honesty that Pop displays leads to accountability, which enables each Spur to get the most out of their potential.

Virtue #3:  Empowerment

The Spurs empower each of their players to step up and produce.  This was most evident in last year’s NBA Finals when Tony Parker walked up to Pop during a timeout to interject his opinion.  Pop gave Parker the keys to the timeout huddle and Parker started explaining to his teammates what he saw.  That empowerment to step up and make a difference is a hallmark of every player on the Spurs.

Pop explained the interaction in a press conference, "That’s not a rarity. While the coaches are out talking on the court, we do that so that the players can communicate and talk to each other because most of the time they know more what's going on than we do.  There will be times when Timmy will sit in that chair or Manu will sit there or Tony will sit there and they'll talk to the team if they have something they want to get across. That's just how we do things.”

Spurs don’t put people in their place; instead they empower each other.

Virtue #4:  Share

San Antonio had 1771 passes in the NBA finals compared to Miami’s 1299.  That’s 472 more passes, or about 95 more passes per game.  Pretty remarkable.  Pop constantly tells his guys that the ball can’t “stick”; meaning ball movement is paramount.

The players bought in to the sharing concept as well.  As Manu Ginobili pointed out in this article, “I think it can potentially be a game-changer, for other teams that don’t have as much talent to give (an individual) the ball and let them create like Kobe or Durant or LeBron. It kind of showed the way in the sense … if you don’t have as much talent, you still can do it. You can move the ball and put a lot of pressure on the defense."

Then, there are the salaries that each player makes.  The Spurs "big 3" all took less money to stay in San Antonio.  Parker made 12.5 million, Duncan made 10.4 million, and Ginobili made 7 million.  Those salaries combined are less than what Kobe Bryant’s salary was this year (30.5 million).

Sharing is a non-negotiable for Spurs.

Virtue #5:  Process Focus

“When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”  --Jacob Riis

That quote has been at the heart of the Spurs culture for years.  “Pound the Rock” has become the rallying cry for one of the best organizations in sports.  It’s become so popular that there is even a popular blog named after it (www.poundingtherock.com).  It didn’t matter if they had lost game 2, or were down 22-6 in game 5, the Spurs were always focused on executing and playing the right way for 48 minutes.

Regardless of the score, Spurs continue to chisel away at their opponents until eventually they break.

Virtue #6:  Something to Prove

The Spurs are filled with guys who have had something to prove throughout their career.  They are an eclectic, diverse group, highlighted by 8 international players, which led the league in that category.  Each player on the Spurs has had a different journey to the NBA, but only one of them (Duncan) was selected in the NBA Draft lottery.  The rest of the team is filled with late 1st and 2nd round picks, guys who were passed over because of weaknesses.  They are a resilient, gritty group of guys who constantly have to prove they belong.

Nothing has been given to the Spurs and that’s why so much has been earned.

Virtue #7:  Best Friends

Teams often talk about how there needs to be a mutual respect amongst each other, but that they don’t have to be “best friends” with their teammates.  Yet, as Patty Mills grabbed the microphone during the Spurs celebration ceremony, he introduced his teammates as his “best friends”.    He went on to talk about each and every player and how they brought something unique to the team.  He was genuine, funny, and comfortable talking about the guys he sweated with all year.  He mentioned their quirks, how they were better people than players, and how much he loved each of them.

It’s not good enough to just be a teammate, Spurs must love each other like best friends.

The word “virtue” has many different definitions, but the one that sticks out is “a good or useful quality or thing.”  When it comes to the 2014 NBA Champions there are plenty of good qualities to go around, and those champion qualities should be celebrated, admired, and duplicated by us all.