SI Vault
 
The Tao of Pop
L. JON WERTHEIM
March 09, 2009
Their new starters are a couple of vagabonds, but the Spurs keep on rolling. Why? Because the Big Three and coach Gregg Popovich know the value of players who have something to prove
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
March 09, 2009

The Tao Of Pop

Their new starters are a couple of vagabonds, but the Spurs keep on rolling. Why? Because the Big Three and coach Gregg Popovich know the value of players who have something to prove

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2

After the season Bonner signed with Toronto, where he played for two years. The 6'10" redhead became a Raptors fan favorite, not least because he was frequently spotted riding public transportation to the downtown arena. With no such option in San Antonio, he reluctantly drives himself. His tricked-up wheels? A 2006 Pontiac Grand Prix, bought in his native New Hampshire so he could avoid paying sales tax. Then again, Matt's father, Dave, a recently retired mailman, was in San Antonio last week—yes, to watch his son play but also, he says, because "Matt needs me to drive some of his furniture back to New Hampshire. Guess he didn't want to pay for the shipping." Popovich's bit about Spurs players not being enticed by the trappings of celebrity? Bonner might be the exemplar.

Like any system, San Antonio's can be rigid and a bit cold. Players who have outlived their usefulness can see their roles fade. Last month defensive stalwart Bowen was dangled as trade bait. George Hill, an eager rookie point guard, has taken work from veteran Jacque Vaughn. Bonner's emergence in the frontcourt—after two years on the Spurs bench he has developed into the NBA's top three-point marksman, despite an unorthodox jumper that originates near gut level—hastened the retirement of Horry and has deeply cut into the playing time of Fabricio Oberto, the mined gem from a few seasons ago.

The system, on the other hand, also means that players know the reality and manage expectations accordingly. Asked about his reduced role, Oberto says, "If I'm not playing and the teams wins, that's perfect." Perfect? "Look, everyone wants to play, [but] everyone wants to win more." Mason has noticed the abiding irony. "It's funny, on the losing team you can have the egos and selfishness. This is a winning organization—they've earned the right [to ego]—and there's no one self-centered. Total team. We'll exercise in the pool and all 15 guys are in there. It's just different here."

And that carries over on the court. This year's collective offered a representative glimpse of the Spurs' way during a 99--84 win over the Blazers last week. A half-court possession in the third quarter resembled one of those movies that tacks between the past and present. As the ball swung between the familiar Spurs (Parker, Bowen) and the valuable newcomers (Mason, Bonner), each passed up a good shot for a better one. Finally, Bonner spotted up without hesitation and drained a three-pointer.

And the stonecutters take another thwack.

1 2