As we watch the very excellent play of the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA playoffs, here’s a question for Dallas Cowboys fans: Who is Peter Holt?
I’m a very casual basketball fan, so perhaps I’m less knowledgeable than many readers, but my guess is that relatively few outside of San Antonio can identify Peter Holt as the owner of the Spurs. Breathes there man or woman who hasn’t heard the name of the Cowboys’ owner, Jerry Jones? Perhaps there’s a lesson here.
If the Spurs win their fifth NBA championship, they will arguably be the most successful pro sports franchise in Texas history. Yes, the Cowboys have five Super Bowl trophies, but the last one was 17 years ago. And the Spurs have never lost an NBA Finals series; no disgrace, but the Cowboys have lost three Super Bowls. How do the Spurs do it? The truth is their model closely resembles the one that used to be followed by the Cowboys themselves.
Here’s a checklist:
- Owner keeps a low profile, lets professionals run the team. Does not appear as a grinning huckster in trashy television commercials. This was the wise approach taken by the Cowboys’ original owner, Clint Murchison, Jr.
- Hire top coach and keep him. Gregg Popovich has been the Spurs’ head coach since 1996, not quite equal to the 29 years that Tom Landry served as coach of the Cowboys, but getting there.
- Build through the draft, which is even more difficult in basketball than football. The Spurs’ big three, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker, are all home-grown talent. Be creative: Ginobli and Parker were foreign players. The Cowboys, under both Landry and Jimmy Johnson, were astute judges of raw talent.
- Select players of high personal character who “play well with others” and do not as a rule show up on the police blotter. Lurid headlines involving Spurs players are very rare.
The sad thing is that, outside of South Texas, the excellence of the Spurs (who, ironically, had very modest beginnings as the Dallas Chaparrals of the old ABA) remains largely unappreciated, with low television ratings even against the flashy Miami Heat. Meanwhile, year after year, the networks fight over the right to televise Jerry’s predictably mediocre Cowboys . Life’s not fair, or hadn’t you heard?