The San Antonio Spurs are an enviable NBA franchise, having won five championships and six conference titles in seven years, and doing so without marquee players — i.e. the archetypal superstars of the league. Among those players key to the franchise was David Robinson, the center who helped the team win two of its titles, all the while accumulating numerous individual honors that helped cement his place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
A big reason for his success in the NBA, and the success of the Spurs, is the way the team was built. During the recent EY Strategic Growth Forum, Robinson, who is also co-founder of the private equity firm Admiral Capital Group, discussed how leadership, research, and embracing diversity are central to assembling a strong team.
“It always starts at the top, right?” Robinson said during the Forum. “So you’ve got owners like Red McCombs, who I started off with as an owner, and then Peter Holt came in subsequently and took over. And then you’ve got leadership like Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford, who — they just have vision. They go and search through the world and decided, ‘Hey, we’re going build our team the right way. We’re going to take our time. We’re going to bring guys in here. We’re going to trust them and we’re not going to panic when things don’t go the way we think they should go right away.”
Over the years, Robinson said, the Spurs leadership consistently made good decisions and showed great vision. Referencing two-time NBA All-Star shooting guard Manu Ginobili, who the Spurs selected late in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft, and Tony Parker, the six-time NBA All-Star point guard selected late in the first round of the 2001 draft late in the first round, Robinson said the organization does its homework.
“And I think that’s just kind of counter-cultural to what’s happening now, you know? Everybody wants to go out and get free agents. Let’s put together three stars and let’s try to make a team,” he said. “So, you know the Spurs have taken the long route, and it’s worked.”
Part of the organization’s success is predicated on its inclination to look globally for players. That means having a willingness to search broadly for the right fit. From Robinson’s perspective, it also means embracing diversity.
“I mean, first of all you’ve got to appreciate diversity. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people want to keep the same faces in there and the same coaching and the same everything.”
In some respects, he says diversity can be intimidating.
“You know, why take a chance?” Robinson said. “Why go out and get a piece that might not fit? But that piece brings such a different worldview to your organization, so I think that [Popovich] and [McCombs] really appreciate that.
“We’ve had guys from China. We’ve had guys … all over. I mean, Tim Duncan’s from St. Croix [Virgin Islands], Europeans, Australians. They’ve done a good job of bringing in all of that. We had a guy, Žarko Paspalj, from Yugoslavia.
“They have such a rich team, and I think it’s — everyone gets along so well, and everyone is focused on making each other better, and it really is a fantastic organization from top to bottom.”