Beyond this, San Antonio was the first NBA franchise to figure out how to use European basketball as a farm system, whether for selecting low draft picks, finding stars like Tony Parker, or identifying quality role players like Fabricio Oberto. Currently, the Spurs are out in front of another trend, using the D-League as a true farm team--they are one of only two teams which own their D-League affiliate. Their first stab at making this model work, Ian Mahinmi, will debut sometime this month.
In terms of trailblazing a model for success, Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford deserve the lions share of credit. But Spurs owner Peter Holt is getting in on the act with a little ingenuity of his own.
David Stern once remarked that he felt that climate change was the biggest threat of our time. Peter Holt apparently heard the good commissioner and snapped into action. Last June, the Spurs made the move to become the first wind-powered franchise in the league. Since that time, the Spurs have been 100% powered by Windricity, a wind turbine product of CPS energy. Back then Holt said,
"We are exploring recycling and water conservation ideas as well," Holt said in a press release. "We really want to be a model for arenas across the country regarding sensitivity to the environment."Jerry Needham is reporting that Holt's exploration has led to another paradigm-shifting implementation: The Spurs are now conserving 13.2 million gallons of water per year through a variety of eco-friendly adjustments to the AT&T Center. Peter Holt is quoted as saying, "We are deeply committed to the health and well-being of this community. There is nothing more important than helping to protect and conserve our most precious resource — water.”
Whereas Popovich created a model for team front offices, Holt's actions will demand the attention of fellow owners, the Commissioner's Office, and the rest of professional sports. Whether or not one agrees with the science of climate change, there is no doubt that the Spurs are out in front of this trend, and that they'll continue to march, in that "San Antonio Way," to the beat of their own drummer.
These initiatives dovetail nicely with another hot issue: the economy. One question I'd love to ask Chairman Holt is how much money his green policies will save the Spurs over a period of 10 or 20 years? Although he is clearly not motivated by the potential financial benefits of such changes, the question is begging the interrogator. Setting aside the controverted subject of climate change, would these changes ultimately help a franchise's bottom line? How closely is the Commissioner's Office monitoring Holt's green policies, and will the league seek to follow the lead of the Spurs? What things could be done league-wide to follow in the train? If the Spurs have become the first green franchise in professional sports because of the convictions of Peter Holt, when will the convictions of David Stern transform the NBA into the first green sports league? These questions are worth monitoring. We'll keep you posted.
Update: Henry Abbott puts these issues in a broader context.