When you step inside the San Antonio Spurs' home arena, you can't miss the four NBA championship banners that hang from the ceiling. Each banner features a picture of the golden Larry O'Brien trophy set against a gleaming white background.
The banners represent the successes of Gregg Popovich's tenure.
So does the Spurs' family tree — a tree with roots in central Texas and branches that stretch across the continental United States. Perhaps no franchise has developed more front-office and coaching talent over the past decade and a half than the Spurs. Seven current NBA general managers once worked under Popovich in a basketball-operations role. Five current NBA head coaches either played directly for Popovich or worked in his basketball-operations department or served as one of his assistant coaches.
"In any business, having good people is what it's all about: people that can step in and take over," Popovich said. "We've been real fortunate in hiring really good people."
Tonight's game between the Spurs and the Orlando Magic at Amway Center reflects the Spurs' outsized influence.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan spent the first four years of his career working in San Antonio, rising from intern to director of basketball operations. Magic coach Jacque Vaughn spent the final three seasons of his playing career with the Spurs and the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons as one of Popovich's assistant coaches.
Magic CEO Alex Martins, who hired Hennigan and signed off on Vaughn's hiring, has said the pair brought "championship organization experience" because of their experience in San Antonio.
Hennigan recently lauded the Spurs for being "incredibly principled" and for "staying disciplined to stick to those principles."
The basketball operations department Hennigan has put together in his five months as Orlando's general manager bears some strong similarities to San Antonio's model. Hennigan has overhauled his team's scouting department, embraced advanced analytical tools and has hired a head coach with Spurs ties who also relishes developing young players.
Hennigan and Vaughn have hired three other people with Spurs backgrounds.
James Borrego, the Magic's lead assistant coach, spent seven seasons with the Spurs, beginning as an assistant video coordinator and ending as an assistant coach.
George Rodman now serves as the Magic's advanced analytics guru after he completed his four-year tenure in San Antonio as the Spurs' statistical analyst. Zach Guthrie, who spent last season as the Spurs' assistant video coordinator, now works as Orlando's manager of advanced scouting.
Popovich, 63, spent four years as a Spurs assistant coach under Larry Brown from 1988 to 1992, then joined the Golden State Warriors as an assistant coach for two seasons.
He returned to the Spurs in mid-1994 as the team's executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager. He added head-coaching responsibilities during the 1995-96 season.
R.C. Buford's second stint with the Spurs started in 1994. Eight years later, he was named the team's general manager.
"Our group has been together a long time," Buford said.
"We've had the great fortune of an ownership group who has believed in our vision and in Pop's vision. A big part of having success internally in the Spurs' organization is that Pop wants participation from everybody. He wants people to be open with their opinion, but he doesn't want those opinions to be without merit or without preparation."
Hennigan thrived in that environment. So did Lance Blanks, Dell Demps, Danny Ferry, Dennis Lindsey, Sam Presti and Kevin Pritchard, who are now GMs for other teams.
NBA head coaches Mike D'Antoni, Vinny Del Negro, Avery Johnson and Monty Williams either worked within the Spurs' basketball operations department or played for Popovich after he became the Spurs' head coach. (Doc Rivers spent part of the 1994-95 season and the entire 1995-96 season playing for the Spurs, but Popovich wasn't the team's coach at the time.)
Popovich and Buford often defer the credit for the Spurs' success to David Robinson and Tim Duncan, two superstar players with small egos.
But the Spurs also are renowned for helping to turn around the careers of players who had problems with other teams.
"I think Coach [Popovich] is extremely fair and honest and holds the guys accountable, and I'm not sure every team does that," Vaughn said.
"Guys who have had problems other places probably didn't see it that way along the way, and when they come to an organization like the Spurs, and they see Coach Pop tell Tim Duncan, 'You need to box out also,' I think it puts things in the proper perspective."
Hennigan and Vaughn have said that Popovich and Buford excel at building teamwork within their front office and their coaching staff.
That teamwork, in turn, filters to the team's roster.
"I don't think any of us came into this wanting to start a basketball tree," Buford said.
"I think we all recognize that there have been a lot of people throughout the course of basketball history that have had a bigger impact on the game of basketball. But I think Pop made a decision when he first came back that he wanted to build our program around people that we enjoyed being together with, that we wanted to go to work with and we could trust."
Five of those people now work for the Magic.
They are products of the prolific Spurs tree.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times