I’m hearing a lot about culture lately. From David Locke, who obviously believes it’s the right way to build a successful team, to Sam Presti, who didn’t use the word specifically, but you get the impression he’d go along with it, it’s become the mantra of the Sonics this summer.
But what is culture? There is much discussion of the Spurs’ “culture” and how it has spread to Cleveland, or the Jazz’ “culture”, or the Mavericks’ “culture,” but just what the heck is it? As Frank Hughes pointed out at the News Tribune, it’s all well and good to say you’re going to have a winning culture, but is there any substance to it?
Well, when I watch the Spurs and Cavs, it’s not “culture” that I think, it’s Tim Duncan and LeBron James. Fine, Mike Brown brought a culture from San Antonio to Cleveland, but it helps just a bit to have the most physically intimidating non-center in NBA history lining up for you every night.
The press can drone on all day about Popovich’s “family,” but if the Spurs had drafted Keith Van Horn with the third pick rather than Duncan with the first, would anybody even be talking about this? (By the way, how sickening was that piece at halftime for Bob Hill? I’m guessing the Hills are shopping for a new set today after Bob put his shoe through the old one last night.)
Likewise with Cleveland. Let’s say the Cavs get Chris Bosh or Darko rather than LeBron, are we still falling over ourselves about how beautiful the San Antonio system is? After all, the Heat don’t have a former Spurs assistant running their team, and somehow they managed to win a title last year. Sure, the Jazz are flying high right now, but their “culture” hadn’t managed a win in the playoffs since Karl Malone left. What was wrong with their culture the last four years? Did they lose the recipe somewhere at Temple?
And what kind of “culture” did the Lakers have when they won three straight? Presti talked a lot about “selflessness” in his press conference, but can you recall a more selfish team than those Lakers? LA was a family alright, but it was more like the Manson Family than the Waltons.
To be honest, I’d wager that Presti and the rest of the NBA knows that culture can only take you so far. Chemistry, family, and culture are all byproducts of winners. No one ever talks about the A’s culture, because they don’t have one. Their culture is winning, and finding the best players they can afford. In the end, it takes a superstar player who is committed to playing basketball on both ends of the court. MJ, Bird, Magic, Duncan, Hakeem ... there’s a thread common to all of those guys – they all played hard all the time (well, at least in the playoffs), they were obsessed with winning, and they were good on both sides of the court (which makes you wonder whether Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis will be getting their mail forwarded any time soon, but that’s another story).
A very wise man once said that talent wins games in the NBA, not coaches. The organization, the coaching staff, the “culture” if you will, all sounds great at press conferences and in power point presentations, but I’ll take a 6’10” small forward who can dunk with one hand and shoot 3’s with another, thank you very much.