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Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are similarly dissimilar

Sure, San Antonio's success is something Oklahoma City would like to emulate, but there are plenty of differences between these two small market teams.
by Berry Tramel and Darnell Mayberry Published: December 17, 2012

Big brother comes to town Monday night for a big game.

But for as much as the Thunder has been compared to San Antonio over the years, not once have you heard anyone in Oklahoma City's organization express a desire to be like the Spurs.

Not outside the win column, anyway.

It might just be because the Thunder and Spurs are two different franchises that have blazed two totally different paths. They just happen to share a few obvious similarities and pivotal organizational philosophies.

Sam Presti perhaps summed up things best.

“Many people strive to sustain success in our business, but what the Spurs have done is sustain excellence,” the Thunder's architect told the San Antonio Express-News in September.

The Thunder is off to a good start. But to get here, to establish the “Thunder Way,” the ownership group, Presti and players had to undergo relocation, being an upstart franchise in an untapped market and building an identity, on the court and in the community, from scratch. All are things the Spurs haven't known since their ABA roots in the '70s.

But the biggest difference today still is seen on both benches, where a chess match will ensue between the 63-year-old Gregg Popovich and the 47-year-old Scott Brooks.

Popovich is king in San Antonio. What he says goes. He's a coach Brooks admittedly aims to learn from, and rightfully so given Popovich's four championships.

“Pop is one of the coaches that all coaches look at because he does it in the right way,” Brooks said. “He respects the game and he respects his opponent, and they demand great effort every night and we do the same thing.”

Brooks seems to be able to go on all day talking about the Spurs.

“They're one of the best teams in this league for the last 15 years or so,” he said. “They play hard. They play together. They play smart. They have great experience.”

That's just a few of about 40 ways the Thunder are different from the Spurs. But we offer 10 of the biggest differences that destroy the notion that Oklahoma City has become San Antonio north.


From top to bottom in both organizations, there couldn't be more of a difference in experience. Clay Bennett, Sam Presti and Scott Brooks all took on unfamiliar positions as young decision-makers relative to their titles. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had the keys to the franchise as 21-year-olds. In San Antonio, the leadership has been long-established, from owner Peter Holt to general manager R.C. Buford to coach Gregg Popovich to former star David Robinson. The Thunder has built from the bottom at every level. The Spurs have succeeded with several old NBA hands, supplanting them with newbies along the way.


As a young franchise, the Thunder has had enormous success with sprinkles of heartbreak. But OKC has a long way to go to catch up to San Antonio, an organization that understands the NBA's ups and downs better than most all others. The Spurs have won four NBA titles and journeyed to the Western Conference Finals on three other occasions since their first championship in 1999. But the Spurs also have been knocked out of the first round twice in the past four years and have seen many more than just two fan favorites unexpectedly leave town over the years.


It's a credit to San Antonio's management and the character of its players that Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have held together this long. But because that trio has it's become easy to lose sight of the turnover the Spurs have gone through. San Antonio repeatedly has had to reinvent itself since the mid-90s. The Thunder is only on chapter three after retooling in the wake of losing Jeff Green and James Harden. San Antonio has proved itself capable of keeping its core intact but also succeeding while restructuring around it. The Thunder has not to this point.


With all due respect to the Spurs, it was a little easier to win titles during their heyday. There were no super teams. San Antonio's stiffest competition was the Lakers, who had two of the best ever in Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal. But outside of a solid collection of talent in Phoenix and Dallas, the Spurs weren't competing against what's standing in the Thunder's way today. As a small market team, OKC has the never-before-seen challenge of competing on the court while having no chance to keep up in the tax era. It's tilted the advantage to the coasts.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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