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They were stunned at how similarly their teams played. For instance, you would not think Tom Brady and San Antonio star Tim Duncan are alike at all. Brady seems fiery and outspoken, Duncan cool and withdrawn. But what Buford and Pioli found is that both players inspire similar feelings: The guys around them want to play better. This is probably what people mean when they say that a player "makes his teammates better," but that's too vague and simplified. Buford and Pioli believe that the best players inspire teammates in very direct ways.
"You don't want to disappoint them," Pioli says.
"A [teammate] naturally doesn't want a great player to be working harder than he is working," Buford says.
"If a great player doesn't care openly about his individual achievements—and it's clear Tom Brady and Tim Duncan don't—then other players can't care about their individual achievements either," Pioli says.
And, finally, there's the realization in New England and San Antonio that Brady and Duncan are such great players that the team has a real shot at a championship every year. That, too, lifts players up.
"I think Scott and I would agree that it doesn't happen by accident," Buford says. "It comes from knowing who you are. It comes from knowing what you want to be."
Pioli believes—all these guys believe—that the whole idea of building a team has turned into a cliché. It's as if when people think about a team, they picture a homogenized collection of hustlers and gamers and choirboys who do everything right on the field and off. That's not exactly what any of these guys want. What they want are players who reflect what they believe sports are about.
"I think if you are an authentic leader," Mark Shapiro says, "you can't separate the man you are from the leader you are. You can't separate what you believe from the kind of team you're building. That's all we are really talking about here. We're not looking for robots. We're not looking for perfect people.
"You know what we are looking for? I got this from [longtime major league G.M.] Pat Gillick. We want players who are dependable. I don't necessarily mean they give dependable performances. Performance varies, and some of that is beyond a player's control. We want players who are dependable in the way they go about their lives. Players who treat the parking-lot attendant right, players who talk to their teammates, players who will go about their business in practices, in their video work, in their strength and conditioning work. Dependable. Players you can depend on."