On Sunday, the San Antonio Spurs and Utah Jazz were given the early morning start on ESPN for game one of their opening round playoffs series. On Wednesday, the teams were given another early start so the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers could have the prime time game. Being two of the smaller markets in this years playoffs, the Spurs and Jazz are used to having TV spots out of the prime time lineup.
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich seems to be alright with never getting the national attention, because molding the Spurs in the quiet, professional level of the Jazz’ franchise was a plan he’s had since taking over the Spurs in the mid 90s.
“The success that we’ve had and Utah’s had is really satisfying because it has come in small markets,” said Popovich of the two teams, “and people really appreciate it. The fans in both places are unbelievable, and basically demand that we do things a certain way I think.”
“We’re the only games in town, as far as the professional deal in concerned,” continued Popovich, “and when you find an organization that does it with class like we found Utah doing it, when we came here, R.C. (Buford) and I wanted to do it as closely as we could.”
“And that’s not easy because they do it the right way.” said Popovich of the Jazz, “They’re closed mouthed. They don’t talk in the papers about things, there’s no braggadocio, there’s no moaning and groaning in the paper or talking about players in the paper, or trades or anything, they just do their work and go home.”
“And that’s what we’ve tried to do,” finished Popovich, “they set the tone and the example for that, and of course Jerry (Sloan) did it on the court with the consistency and the hard nosed play, and demanding that all the players compete at a high level and do it unselfishly, and we’ve tried to emulate that as best we could.”
The Spurs are definitely emulating the glory days of the Jazz. Sloan, a unique coach had numerous winning seasons with the Jazz behind his franchise players Karl Malone and John Stockton. The Jazz had classy role players like Jeff Hornacek and Greg Ostertag. Their arena has consistently been one of the toughest places to play according to players past and present, and the Spurs have followed suit.
Popovich and Buford first began with the foundation of David Robinson and Tim Duncan, two of the most ego-less superstars to ever play in the NBA. They added unknowns from outside of the United States like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and the trend of adding high character ego-less players has continued as they recently acquired the emotionless rookie, Kawhi Leonard.
Yes the Jazz and Spurs might not get all of the ratings, and it’s unfortunate that coach Sloan never got an NBA ring because he had to go up against arguably one of the best basketball players ever, Michael Jordan. But Sloan’s legacy is being continued through what Popovich and Buford have done in San Antonio, and their prints on coaches and office personnel around the league is being recognized more and more as evidenced by Sam Presti with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Spurs might still get some of the worst TV slots through this first round series, but so long as they make to the Finals, that’s when the rest of the league will find out what they’ve been missing.