When sharpshooting guard Steve Smith was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in the summer of 2001, he saw Sam Presti pretty much every day and at all hours.
Trouble was, Smith had no idea what Presti's official position was with the team.
“He was always around,” said Smith, who led the league in 3-point shooting his first season (2001-02) with the Spurs at 47.2 percent. “If you were new to the organization, you really didn't know his title. He'd be in the video room. He'd be around the coaches, with the players. He was with the general manager.”
Smith won a world championship his second season with the Spurs, played 14 years in the league and now is an analyst with NBA TV.
With the Spurs and Thunder about to commence the Western Conference Finals with Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday in San Antonio, Smith reflected back to seeing a 23-year-old Presti constantly processing input during his early years with the Spurs.
“Hard worker and passionate about the game,” Smith recalled of Presti, who ascended from a $250/month film internship to assistant general manager in seven years (2000-07) with the Spurs. “Sam has this personality where he doesn't say much. He lets you do a lot of the talking, kind of listens and learns.”
Presti's traits help explain why a 4-year-old Thunder franchise is in the playoffs for a third straight season and making its second straight trip to the Western Conference Finals.
Smith caught only a fleeting glimpse of Presti, but Spurs president/head coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford got the full-Presti.
In the summer of 2000, Presti was fresh out of Emerson College and working a basketball camp in Aspen, Colo. With an initial dream of someday becoming a high-school coach, Presti tried to get an NBA internship, but Buford didn't arrive until the final day of camp.
While Buford refereed a game, Presti delivered his best sales pitch while literally chasing Buford up and down the court from the sideline.
Buford liked what he heard, offered Presti an internship, then stuck him inside a converted custodial closet at the Alamodome as video coordinator.