Corporate Knowledge: The Spurs and luck


Success, no matter what your endeavor, is equally reliant on luck and circumstance as it is on diligence, ingenuity, and preparation.

Even the best laid plans can be rendered irrelevant without the right breaks along the way. And should an opportunity present itself, one cannot fully take advantage of it unless they are prepared to do so.

Over at Pounding the Rock, a contributor by the alias Big50 touched upon the roles of luck and skill:

“Yes, the events that combined to allow the Spurs to draft Tim Duncan were at the very least exceptionally fortuitous. From David Robinson’s injury, to the makeup of the team in 1997, to the bouncing of lottery balls — everything out of the control of the franchise broke in favor of San Antonio. But that’s not the end of the story, it was the beginning. And you can appreciate the fortune that the Spurs have enjoyed, while also understanding that it the rest of the story that’s still being written could only exist, because there are smart, motivated and hardworking people that did the work to put the entire team together so that it could experience success.

And there’s nothing the slightest bit lucky about that.”

First off, between Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker, only Parker is validation of the San Antonio Spurs vaunted scouting acumen. Duncan was an obvious choice brought about by a fortunate set of unfortunate injuries. And for all the accolades Manu Ginobili brings the Spurs for their international scouting, had the Spurs had any inkling of what Ginobili was to become, they certainly wouldn’t have waited until the second-to-last pick of the draft to nab him.

And they definitely would not have drafted (or traded for, if you want to get technical) Gordon Giricek before him.

The Spurs are no more genius for drafting Ginobili than I would be for winning the Lottery with quick pick numbers. But that’s beside the point.

Two years ago, in quoting Jim Collins of How the Mighty Fall, I pointed out that most empires/dynasties/etc. recognize the role luck played in their fortune and how fleeting it can be, pushing them to work harder to compensate for when said luck runs out:

“The book identifies one trait commonly found amongst all great leaders:

  • The best leaders we’ve studied never presume they’ve reached ultimate understanding of all the factors that brought them success. For one thing, they retain a somewhat irrational fear that perhaps their success stems in large part from fortuitous circumstance.

Popovich often jokes that when Tim Duncan retires, he will join him shortly out the door. Much of his success, Popovich quickly attributes to the lucky bounce of a few ping pong balls, which is the sort of attitude one would expect from a man who once lived in the dorms of Division III Pomona-Pitzer before rising up the NBA ranks.

Luck and chance are essential to any bit of success. Those who understand this, that retain that irrational fear, often drive themselves to be better positioned when that luck runs out.”

For every bit of success the Spurs have enjoyed that can be attributed to reasons beyond their control, they’ve also done a masterful job, as head coach Gregg Popovich likes to put it, of “not screwing things up.”

I encourage you to go back and read the rest of the excerpt and think about how it pertains to this season and what the Spurs have done to position themselves for yet another playoff run.

Lady Luck is a promiscuous girl, and yet the Spurs have managed to keep her faithful for the most part. The Spurs are hardly the only team to draft a Tim Duncan-like centerpiece. One only need to look at the situation in Orlando to see how things could have turned out much different.

But we’re over a decade into this run and as much as luck can be credited to their success, there’s something to be said for not squandering it.



  • junierizzle

    I think the Spurs should definitely feel lucky that  both Caron Butler and Josh Howard turned them down.

  • deacbfh3

    While we’re at it, let’s point out that the Lakers’ titles from 2000-02 were partially the result of Spurs’ injuries (Duncan, Derek Anderson, Robinson), the year after the Spurs swept the same Shaq-Kobe Lakers out of the playoffs.  Quite lucky for the Lakers.

    Then, there’s the 2004 Lakers playoff win attributable Derek Fisher somehow being allowed to catch, turn, jump, and shoot in 0.4 seconds.  There’s some more “luck” for you.

    And let’s not forget the Lakers being the beneficiary of a joke of a lopsided trade with Memphis that should have never been allowed by the league, that enabled the Lakers to win their last 2 titles.  That is actually closer to a fix.

    Given that, I’d argue that the Spurs and Popovich have had less “luck” since 1999 compared to the Lakers, and I’ve yet to hear anyone argue that the Spurs had more talent than the Lakers.  And somehow the Spurs have still won 4 titles over that span to the Lakers’ 5, and have been undefeated in the Finals (4-0). 

    That’s skill and great coaching, not luck.

  • MannyPacquioaFan


  • Craig Thomas

    Great article. Spurs have been very lucky in the past, and very unlucky in the present. From Manu’s numerous injuries (his ankle in ’08 and ’09, and his arm on the last game of the season last year), to Derek Fisher’s infamous 0.4 second shot, to Manu’s and-one foul on Dirk in the waning moments of game 7 in 2006, and numerous others, the Spurs have had the ball bounce their way only to see it bounce the other in just the next moment. 

    The perfect example of the instantaneous luck change was that deciding game 5 against the Lakers when Duncan hits one of the most incredible playoff shots in NBA History, falling to the ground with Shaq in his face. With 0.4 seconds left, the game should be over and a shot shouldn’t even be possible. Somehow though, Fisher releases a tough fade-away and (with the help of a slow start to the clock) pulls off a better playoff buzzer-beater than Duncan. Oh how the basketball Gods toyed with our emotions that night and seem to leave some of the most important moments in NBA History to sheer chance.

  • Bob

    I wish they had that not screw it up mindset last year. They even went and got SJax so if Ginobili gets hurt they have insurance.

  • LPspursFan

    luck was certainly in the Spurs’ corner when the team landed Tim Duncan…after that, i tend to think more along the lines of ‘you make your own luck’

    the Spurs, under Pop, have tended to be well-coached, disciplined teams that win games against better talent on a regular basis…

    now if you consider health to be lucky or unlucky, that’s a different story; i felt a healthy Manu the last 2 years would’ve made for far different post-season outcomes…

  • Bob

     It’s interesting how much luck factored into PJ’s teams. He already had really good teams but then he would get these lucky breaks. I think he said one time that good teams create their own luck.

  • GMT

     And then the bastard asterisks us. I won’t give him any respect. Who gets this season’s asterisk?

  • DorieStreet

    We will take another one. Makes a nice bookend to a 14-year run–
    1999 – title; four seasons later, 5-year cycle of a title every other season for 3 more; then four seasons after- title no.5 is grabbed from the group of NBA “marquee” teams.
    That would so piss off the rest of the league’s fans/sports media.

  • TheRealDirtyP1

    The Spurs have been very lucky, especially in the draft, but how about the Bulls? When you have a 2% chance of landing the first pick, and end up with Derek Rose, that’s pretty substantial. They also were “lucky” that Houston drafted Olajuwon and Portland drafted Bowie.
    As far as the Lakers, screw ’em.

  • DorieStreet

    What’s that old saying – “Luck is preparation meets opportunity.”
    I’d say the Spurs thought they had the girl wrapped up in ’08, but the Lakers and Celtics got serious makeovers and stole her away. Bad luck took over the last 3 seasons: pedestrian roster moves- along with a ‘big splash turning into a small drip’ trade –RJ–relegated the Spurs to the “old and fading” category come playoff time.
    Could this season be the opportunity and the Spurs’ work on and off the court be the preparation for “good (great) luck” return?

  • Dr. Who

    WHERE IS PATTY MILLS! I wonder if the bottleneck in his visa is coming from China??? If we have a d leauger logging 15mins. there must be minutes for a true back-up PG. Loved watching this guy play in Portland. Can’t wait to see him in a Spurs uni. Get that visa!!!!! Will add even more “character” to the roster. He’s a wakawaka kinda guy. Great that we nabbed him, but let’s get him on the court already!

    Mr. Impatient

  • Len

    OK, I can’t resist.  What exactly is a “wakawaka kinda guy”?

  • kyle

    My hopes for a ring revolve around us getting the lucky bounces in the playoffs.  We are talented and capable of winning a title this year, but we are by no means the favorites.  It will take the lucky rolls to win a few key games, and hopefully the basketball gods are on our side.  In other words, our talent will get us close to the title, our luck will put us over the top.

  • grego

    Mills was officially signed. 

  • Bentley

    Phil Jackson, even from his days with the Bulls, has had the most lucky breaks come his way during the playoffs. So there is probably some truth to that.

  • grego

    Officially signed now

  • Kingofamericans

    With class comes good karma for the Spurs.

  • theghostofjh

    I agree, Mills does have some talent. A true back-up point would be nice. The sooner we get him in uniform the sooner we’ll get a sense of whether he can get up to speed fast enough to be used sparingly in the playoffs as the situation dictates.

  • DNITCH24

    This is great news! With all the articles and talk about Diaw’s contributions, I’m wondering what we can expect from Mills. From a YouTube clip I saw of him he seems to be a pretty good scoring guard.

  • Dr. Who

    Dude is a straight up funny guy. While in Portland during the pre-game the Bulls mascot was dancing around in front of the announcers. Patty tackled him and then looked in the camera during the pre game. He’s a “happy to be here guy.” dies this funny 3 point goggles thing. He was a fan favorite in Portland with slot of personality. He could be great to give Tony some rest. We have a brutal schedule coming upnand the Spurs moves are paying dividends. Diaw’s box score isn’t sexy but he’s such a versatile defender that he allows other players to rest. Same thing with jack. He can guard dirk or Kidd in the next series. With mills we should be able to keep some mileage off of Tony. Bravo once again to the FO. Great moves… We’ve been playing without, TP, Duncan, Neal, Manu and Tiago recently and still playing well. Incredible depth on this team.

  • Dr. Who

    And $)$( this iPhone and all thenspelling misTaykes….!!!!

  • Dr. Who

    I believe Spurs signed him for 2 years so they plan on using him. Great pick up for depth. The team is the deepest that I can remember. Supposedly he’s familiar with Spurs sets that are run in his overseas team. Same guy that put up a 20 against the US in the 2008 Olympics for the Aussies. Kobe and Wade had some good things to say about the guy following that game. Solid player, have to believe he’ll be valuable preserving Tony for the playoffs. High energy… And happy to be in SA. I like it… We’ll keep a watch on him as he gets adjusted.

  • Rey

    That was the longest “0.4” second shot clock in the history of the NBA. Had it been the other way (i.e., the Spurs with the ball), that shot clock would’ve expired even before the ball hit the shooter’s hands.