Team culture has been invaluable to the perennial success of the San Antonio Spurs, and some players carry that torch proudly.
If you’re a San Antonio Spurs fan, you’ve probably heard a lot about the team culture; but what exactly does that mean?
Well, a team with a strong culture has a foundation in place that helps it move toward the direction of its goals. The people in places of power, like front-office executives, coaches and owners are on the same page and trust each other to achieve said goals.
For the Spurs, team culture has meant building a family atmosphere from the ground up. As the pinnacle of the professional sport in San Antonio, TX, the Spurs know they have a responsibility to their city to put together a winning product. Whether it be the concessions team, head coach Gregg Popovich, security or the players themselves, everyone is treated with the care and respect that they deserve because each and every person contributes to the organization.
From a basketball perspective, Spurs culture means open-mindedness. It’s a simple understanding that no one person is above another because of their abilities or roles. The Spurs play for each other, and trust that their teammates are going to have their backs no matter what. Everyone gets their chance, and while it may take longer for some people than others, there’s always a plan in place for what comes next.
Spurs culture is about everyone pitching in to be something greater than themselves. Players buy-in because they know they’ll grow and be better for it, even if it means some sacrifice and strenuous workloads along the way.
San Antonio’s Big Three used to be the guiding figures in this, and they still are symbolically, but the only one that remains is Tim Duncan and he can only lend his voice instead of his on-court talent. Now in this new era of the San Antonio Spurs, new voices have risen up and led the way in terms of carrying on the Spurs’ culture.
However, there are three players currently rostered that are significantly important to carrying this culture into the future.
Next: Staying steady like a mountain
3. LaMarcus Aldridge
Seven-time All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge represents Spurs culture in an untraditional way.
Through five years with the organization, Aldridge has seen a lot of change take place around him. He got to play during the tail end of the Big Three Era into the shortlived reign of Kawhi Leonard. He held down the fort as turmoil overwhelmed the team and led them back to the playoffs even without their best player. Then, he helped a heartbroken DeMar DeRozan find his way in the Alamo City and taught him how to embrace the Spurs’ culture for the better.
Through all of the winding events of the past five seasons in the Alamo City, including a trade request from Aldridge himself, the 34-year-old has seen the value of staying in San Antonio and working his tail off for himself and for the team. He’s not the vocal leader that someone like Manu Ginobili once was, and he’s not the longest-tenured on the team, but he’s an All-NBA talent who continues to give his everything to this franchise. That’s extremely telling.
Aldridge is a strong torch-bearer for the Spurs’ culture because he is the most talented player besides the Big Three to buy-in. Since becoming a Spur, Aldridge has become a more efficient scorer and has learned a variety of lessons in how to become a great rim defender. He leads by example, plays hard on both ends of the floor and puts in the work necessary to be great.
There’s a genuine chance that Aldridge ends up in the Hall of Fame, and a big part of that has been these prime years of his career under the guidance of Popovich. More so than anything else, Aldridge has taught the young Spurs about how to adapt to life in San Antonio. He knows the benefits better than anyone, and now he’s instilling it in the next generation.
Next: The OG Towel Twirler
2. Patty Mills
Towel-waiving extraordinaire Patty Mills has seen the San Antonio Spurs at the peak of their powers and was an integral part of their two Finals runs in 2013 and 2014. He knows better than anyone that being a member of the Spurs means brotherhood, camaraderie and synergy reign supreme.
Patty doesn’t ride the end of the bench anymore. As a matter of fact, he’s having his best season now at 30-years-old as the team’s Sixth Man. He’s putting up a career-high 11.6 points per game on 42.3 percent from the field and 38.2 percent three-point shooting. He’s more consistent than ever, but his on-court contributions don’t scrape the surface of what he’s meant off the court.
Mills has been the courier of Pop’s teachings since the Big Three have moved on. He’s a mentor to the younger players, guiding them through their NBA journey by offering a friendly pat on the back and words of advice whenever need be. Whereas Aldridge is more of a leader by example, Mills is a vocal leader who connects with his teammates and disseminates his wealth of corporate knowledge to help them grow.
When he joined the crew in San Antonio, Mills was simply happy to be around such a successful group of basketball players. He soaked up information like a sponge, and become an encouraging voice to all who surrounded him. His contagious positivity soon came to embody Spurs culture as a whole, and he’s now the longest-tenured Spur because of it.
It doesn’t matter what position, age, demographic, background or experience you have—Mills is always willing to offer a helping hand to a player getting adjusted to the Spurs’ way.
Next: Point Guard of the Future
1. Dejounte Murray
While Mills is the current voice of Spurs culture in the locker room, few players have ever embodied it in the way starting point guard Dejounte Murray has during his four seasons in the Alamo City. Mills adapted to the culture, but Murray is rising up in it and his personal convictions pair perfectly with the ideology of the franchise.
It’s been a tough road to the NBA for Murray, and it only kept getting harder. He missed the entirety of last season with a torn ACL, ending what was supposed to be a career-year before it even had the chance to begin. Through the course of that grueling rehabilitation process, Dejounte continued to preach about the Spurs’ culture, and how that shared mentality helped him get through the trying times.
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When franchise point guard Tony Parker passed the starting point guard spot to Dejounte, he also figuratively passed him the torch in terms of leadership. Points guards are inherently supposed to lead, both by passing and dictating the team’s strategy. He’s become a vocal leader and a mentor to the players who’ve been drafted after him.
Murray is carrying the torch into a bright future by teaching his peers how to be Spurs, and how to embrace the culture. In his few, short years with the team, he has learned how giving your all to the Spurs results in the Spurs giving their all back to you. It’s resulted in a passionate devotion from a large sum of the fanbase, who support his every move and root for him every single day.
The passion of San Antonio’s fanbase is unlike anything else in professional sports, which is why it makes sense that they still have the highest local rating of any small-market team. It’s a family affair when it comes to Spurs basketball, and Dejounte has bought into the family more wholeheartedly than any player since Ginobili.
San Antonio’s legacy and culture are in good hands with Dejounte Murray leading the way.