Spurs' Kiwi coach Marks takes it for the team

TEAM MAN: Sean Marks believes it was a lack of selfishness that led the Spurs to NBA victory.
TEAM MAN: Sean Marks believes it was a lack of selfishness that led the Spurs to NBA victory.

San Antonio's Sean Marks had the best seat in the house for one of the great championship runs in NBA history. The New Zealander gives the Sunday Star-Times an insight into the unique forces that drove the Spurs.

Sean Marks isn't sure whether he'll be back as an assistant coach with the champion San Antonio Spurs next NBA season but says he'll trust the fates that threw him unexpectedly into one of the most privileged positions in all of sports.

The NBA season concluded last week with Marks and his Spurs crushing defending champions Miami Heat 4-1 in a memorable, if one-sided, finals series.

It was a result - the Spurs' fifth championship, all under the coaching of Gregg Popovich - hailed by the critics as a triumph for team-first hoops over the superstar fixation of the modern era.

It was also the second NBA title for the 38-year-old North Shore-raised Marks, who was a player on the 2005 Spurs squad that claimed their third title. It wasn't lost on him either that he was rather an accidental coach thrust into a position that has changed his life.

Marks, an 11-year NBA veteran as a player, had spent the previous season as the Spurs' Director of Basketball Operations and general manager of D-League affiliate Austin Toros. He was very much a young executive on the rise. Then, when a couple of Popovich's assistants jumped to head coaching gigs elsewhere in the NBA, everything changed dramatically.

The Spurs needed a hard-working, sharp hoops mind who fitted with their renowned team ethos. It didn't take coach Pop long to realise he had the answer lurking up the hallway and soon the genial Kiwi was thrust back into the day-to-day grind of an NBA season.

The rest, of course, is history. Marks revelled in his role, scouting opponents, working the Spurs big men and supporting a head coach universally lauded as the finest in the game. San Antonio emerged with the league's best regular season record, battled past Dallas, Portland and then Steven Adams' OKC Thunder in the West, before dismantling LeBron James and the Heat with one of the most consummate displays of total hoops the NBA has seen.

"I don't know if we were at our best but we were certainly close to it," Marks reflects before taking part in the traditional celebration parade.

"The guys played exactly how we wanted: unselfishly, moving the ball at such pace, always looking out for a team-mate, not taking contested shots and playing selfless basketball, which is contagious.

"We surprised ourselves. We dug deep and stayed focused for a year, which is amazing when you have a common goal and everybody is driven by that one purpose. There was no wavering - the guys knew what it was going to take."

The Spurs, of course, did it in their inimitable style. Minutes were spread, workload shared, and bodies were fresh for when it really mattered. You couldn't lock down on their threats, because you simply didn't know where they were going to come from. As they do, they'd out-thought as well as out-played their rivals.

And Marks played his part after being "thrown into the fire" and showing very much he could handle the heat.

"I'm blessed to have won two [championships] and I've seen it from both perspectives. The stress and strain that Pop and his staff put on each other, holding our guys accountable and never letting them let up, is contagious. And our players hold each other accountable.

"I've always trusted Pop and [GM] RC [Buford] in guiding me through the whole process. I've trusted my future in their hands and listened to the direction they've given.

"Once the dust settles, we'll figure it out. I'm in no hurry to make any rash decisions. We all need to let this accomplishment sink in."

Sunday Star Times