After subduing the
alcohol demons that pursued him for years after Vietnam, Holt bought a
controlling 32% share in the Spurs before the 1996-97 season, which turned out
to be a dark time in franchise history. Robinson was hurt and would play only
six games; Duncan was still a senior at Wake Forest; Popovich, then the G.M.,
would fire coach Bob Hill 18 games into the season and take over himself;
Buford was the head scout; and Holt, by his own admission, "didn't know
what the hell I was doing." San Antonio finished with a 20-62 record, and
Holt remembers thinking, What did I get myself into?
But the Spurs
stuck to a plan, one that will sound familiar to fans in New England. Holt
instituted what Buford calls "a value-based management team that was in
symmetry with what Pop wanted to do on the basketball side." That is
gobbledygook for: The organization comes first, and every decision will be
discussed by everyone. "We believe that none of us are as smart as all of
us," says Holt. Lips would be sealed too. In refusing to answer a question
about strategy or personnel moves, Popovich has maintained a favorite
expression: "That's family business."
On the basketball
side Holt would keep his nose out of the decision-making as long as Popovich
and Buford (who became G.M. in July�2002 to let Pop concentrate on
coaching) brought in people of character, which is what they wanted to do
anyway. One of the few times Holt raised a flag was in the summer of '03, when
the basketball staff wanted to go after Latrell Sprewell, the guard who during
a 1997 practice altercation had put his hands around the throat of P.J.
Carlesimo, then the coach of the Golden State Warriors and now a San Antonio
assistant. Sprewell was not offered a deal.
The search for
personnel would be global (five international players earned rings this
season), and every player had to be willing and able to do two things--defend,
and pass the ball to an open teammate. Everyone would be treated with respect,
but a bottom-line approach to winning was in effect: When a player failed to
produce, or when his contract exceeded his future value, he would be traded,
waived or allowed to leave as a free agent. Derek Anderson, Stephen Jackson and
Malik Rose found that out.
So did two players
still on the roster. In the summer of 2003, after San Antonio had won its
second championship, Popovich looked second-year point guard Tony Parker in the
eye and said, essentially, "We're going after Jason Kidd in the free-agent
market. Deal with it." Kidd didn't sign, and Parker, who was stung,
remained in the fold and eventually dealt with it. Just before the trading
deadline last season, Popovich told veteran guard Brent Barry he had been
shipped to the New Orleans Hornets and shouldn't bother boarding the team
charter for a road trip. But the deal fell through, Barry hopped the plane
bound for Memphis, and last Thursday he earned his second ring. "I've been
pulled around a little bit here," says Barry, "but at least it's done
to your face. I want to be around a winner, so it's been worth it."
The Spurs indeed
seem to live in their own Never Never Land, allowing only glimpses into their
inner workings, drawing on the bunker-mentality bonhomie shaped by their coach.
"Pop defines the team," says Duncan. "He always has, and as long as
he's here, he always will." After San Antonio made short work of the Cavs
last Thursday, there was Popovich stopping an interview in mid-sentence to hug
Duncan, who was passing by. There was Argentine sixth man Manu Gin�bili
conducting gab sessions in both Italian and Spanish and Parker giving his in
French. There was backup point guard Beno Udrih, who is from Slovenia, walking
arm in arm with Jacque Vaughn and asking to take a photo with him, even though
Vaughn had earned almost all of Udrih's minutes during the season.
finally, was Peter Holt, one-time drunk and war hero, standing in a hallway
outside the Spurs' locker room, across from Parker's fianc�e, TV star Eva
Longoria, who smiled obligingly each time someone aimed a cellphone camera at
her, which was often. Holt had been inside the locker room for a few minutes
but wanted to leave the celebration to the players, "the ones who really
accomplished all of this." He smelled of victory champagne. "But all of
it is on my shirt," he promised, "and none of it went in my