San Antonio Spurs International Core Helps Selflessness On and Off Court


The San Antonio Spurs have a core of international players that have helped them to become selfless in their on the court performances, as well as their off court decisions, to take less money individually, which is something that many other players in the National Basketball League are unwilling to do. San Antonio has a league high eight players on their current squad who were born outside the immediate United States and therefore are considered foreign-born players. This includes Tim Duncan, who is a United States Citizen, but was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands. That makes up around two-thirds of the Spurs roster. The next two teams with the highest percentage of foreign-born players are the Minnesota Timberwolves, with 40 percent, and the Cleveland Cavalier who follow closely behind with 35 percent.

The success of the Spurs has come through their ability to spread the ball around the court quickly. They are very patient, always looking for an extra pass if it could lead to a better shot. They are calculated as well, looking for a higher percentage shot by taking an extra dribble for a 10-foot shot instead of a 12-footer. But it has also come in their ability to spread around the money that the club has. Spur’s “Big Three” of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili only use 47 percent of San Antonio’s budget of $63.1 million. That is $32.36 million left for other players. In contrast the “Big Three” of Miami, who San Antonio played and beat in the NBA Finals this year, had a combined salary of $56.67 million or around 70 percent of the Heat’s budget of $80.7 million. That is over $24 million dollars in difference.

With that extra money, San Antonio were able afford to purchase key role players. Those players include Kawhi Leonard, the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player for $1.9 million, Boris Diaw, who passes the ball around exceptionally well for a big man, with a contract of $4.7 million, big man Tiago Splitter at $10 million, Danny Green, who shot lights out from beyond the arc during the finals, for $3.8 million, Marco Belinelli for $2.7 million and Patty Mills for $1.1 million. Combined those six players’ contracts add up to approximately $23.2 million, just under the difference in monetary value between the Miami and San Antonio “Big Three.” San Antonio’s “Big Three” were all born outside the United States where as the Miami’s “Big Three” were all born in the U.S.

The International core of the San Antonio Spurs has helped kept wages down off the court, but that selflessness is also reflected on the court in their quick passing game and multi-lingual communications. Players on San Antonio speak at least four different languages, including Italian, Spanish, French and of course English, to talk to each other on the court. Players have described the ability to speak a foreign language against other teams who do not have foreign-born players as like having a secret code, which can give them a huge advantage at times.

The San Antonio Spurs are a great representation of the increasing trend of globalization in the modern NBA. Back in 1992 only 5 percent of the NBA rosters, 21 players, were international on the opening night of the season. In contrast on the first night of the 2013-2014 NBA season there were 90 international players or over 20 percent of the starting line-ups for the entire league. Meaning in 20 plus years the NBA has increased the number of international players four-fold. No team is a better collective representation of that fact than the Spurs.

There are times on the court when Tony Parker and Borris Diaw can play a two-man game speaking French the entire time, enabling them to call our to each other exactly what they want to do. Manu Ginobili can speak both Italian and Spanish, enabling him to converse “secretly” with Marco Belinelli and Tiago Splitter respectively. The primary language they use is English though and the coaching staff encourages them to use English in practice so everyone can understand.

The Spurs, because of the fiscal responsibility they have shown, have set themselves up to repeat as champions in the 2014-2015 NBA season. They have a rising American star in Kwahi Leonard, who is humble and ready to learn more, as well as a group of international stars to support him. That core of internationals has helped the San Antonio Spurs to be the most selfless team in the NBA both on and off the court.

By B. Taylor Rash

New York Times
Forbes 1
USA Today
Forbes 2
City Lab

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