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Learning from the Spurs’ consistency

Mark Cook is the program coordinator for the Institute for Global Engagement, a partnership between Denison Forum and Dallas Baptist University. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Dallas Baptist University, and completed his Masters of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School and Truett Seminary. His ministry background is college ministry, and he has served both on a church staff as well as within campus ministries.

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The San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard (2) makes a steal against the Atlanta Hawks' Jeff Teague during the first half in a preseason game at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, October 14, 2015 (Credit: Icon Sportswire/Curtis Compton)

The Golden State Warriors have won an incredible 92% of their 40 games so far. Early in the season, they amassed a 24 game win streak that had them vying for the all-time NBA record before they were beaten by the Milwaukee Bucks. As amazing as the Warriors run has been, led by MVP Steph Curry and sharpshooter Klay Thompson, the San Antonio Spurs are only a few games back in the Western Conference standings and are the real story of the NBA.

Dating back to March of last year, the Spurs have won 32 straight regular-season home games. That’s an incredible feat. While most teams have a certain edge when they play at home, the Spurs almost make teams wish they could forfeit and just skip the trip. This recent success, however, runs parallel to their long-term success. They are the only team in NBA history to have a 10-game win streak in 6 consecutive seasons.

It’s the longevity of their success that allows them to fly under the radar of the national spotlight. It is simply assumed that they will be among the top teams in the NBA each year, so people turn their attention to the various surprise teams and lose track of the Spurs dominance. As with the recent 16th National Championship title from the Alabama Crimson Tide, sustained success has a way of boring those on the outside. There are tremendous lessons to learn from the San Antonio Spurs, though, that we can apply to our everyday lives as we seek to live for the glory of God.

The first lesson from the Spurs is about the power of coaching. In our lives, we may not have a head coach calling time-outs and telling us what to do, but we all have trusted advisors and mentors that speak into our lives. The question is, what kind of mentor are you allowing to speak into your life? Every NBA team has a head coach, but not every team has Greg Popovich, universally respected and thought of as the best coach in the league. Who do you have in your life that helps push you to have more faith in God and to be a better person? The book of Proverbs constantly affirms our need for trusted advisers.

Similarly, the second lesson from the Spurs is about the power of the right culture. The world of sports is notorious for misusing this word, but behind the talk is a powerful truth that we are more than the individual successes and failures we bring to the table. The reason every coach knows that culture is important is because it really is important. The difficulty, though, is establishing the right kind of atmosphere that others can find their place within.

The Spurs culture is marked by two specific characteristics. First, they have a relentlessly straightforward message that the team is more important than the individual. The actions of their players reveals how much they actually buy-in to that statement. The proof is in how many players want to come play for them, taking less money than is available on the open market. Tim Duncan set the standard, but David West is a recent example of a former star who took a huge pay-cut to come play for the Spurs. To apply this characteristic to our lives, think about the importance of community in your life. Do your decisions reflect that you value community, or are you only paying it lip service?

The second characteristic of the Spurs’ culture is how they develop young players. This year, Jonathan Simmons is joining the ranks of Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Patty Mills as young players who grow and develop while surrounded by star players. The Spurs developmental process is about choosing the right players in the draft, players that fit with their system and who display the right temperament for coaching. When we think about this in our lives, the most important component in developing and growing as a Christian is being teachable. The Bible talks about this in terms of “fearing the Lord”. We must have a reverence and respect for God, as well as a dependence and trust that He knows the way forward better than we do.

Most people want the fruit of success without the hard work that is involved. But as the Spurs prove, growth, longevity, and consistency are not achieved without the right coach and the right culture. In our personal lives, growing in Christ comes down to dependence on Jesus. We need mentors around us who will challenge us to keep depending on him in every decision. That is the most important lesson we can learn from the Spurs culture.