OKLAHOMA CITY — When Clay Bennett was seeking a leader for his team that would one day become the Oklahoma City Thunder, he picked a rising star from a San Antonio franchise on the verge of winning its fourth NBA championship in a decade.
It was the start of a process that would model Bennett’s franchise after the Spurs, leading up to their meeting in the Western Conference final starting Sunday night.
The standards that led to San Antonio’s success rubbed off on Sam Presti, who got his start as a video intern for the Spurs before rising through that organization and eventually being hired by Bennett as general manager of the relocating Seattle SuperSonics.
He recognized the importance San Antonio placed on humility, sacrifice and a family atmosphere and has tried to instill those standards in the Thunder.
“I think everyone within the NBA has great respect for what the Spurs have accomplished and the standards that they have established in recent years, but I think every organization has to have their own identity,” Presti said Thursday.
“Certainly, we’re always going to look to try to pull from organizations such as the Spurs in our effort to build an identity and a foundation for an organization in Oklahoma City that has great endurance.”
The similarities are numerous. Each team plays in a smaller NBA market and has a nucleus of homegrown players acquired through the draft, including hidden gems plucked from overseas.
But more than the basketball product, the franchises have a reputation for how they handle their business: no bad-mouthing other teams or players, few scrapes with the law or other incidents and no sense of entitlement.
“I tell guys all the time: Not every guy can come here and play. This isn’t for everybody,” said Nazr Mohammed, who won an NBA title with San Antonio in 2005 and now is a backup for the Thunder.
“The same in San Antonio. That isn’t for everybody.”