How will the Spurs respond with their culture on the line?

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Joshua Primo (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)
San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich and Joshua Primo (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports) /

Every professional sports franchise has skeletons in the closets to varying degrees. Starting with ownership down to the interpersonal relationships of players, nothing is completely clean — especially with this much money on the line. But certain organizations have stood apart with a resounding level of respect from their leagues and spectators. Until this most recent debacle, the San Antonio Spurs culture was considered a model for the rest of the NBA.

What we thought we know about the Spurs has been thrown into question less than 10 games into the season. It began with the team abruptly waiving combo guard Joshua Primo, who was later accused of exposing himself to women on numerous occasions. On Thursday morning, however, the morals of the organization itself were called into question when Dr. Hillary Cauthen and her attorney, Tony Buzbee, held a press conference announcing their intent to sue both Primo and the Spurs organization; the former for indecent exposure and the latter for gross negligence.

Her lawsuit alleges that several members of the Spurs organization attempted to cover up the fact that Primo exposed himself nine separate times with the main point of contact being GM Brian Wright — the man who reached on Primo with the 12th pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. Dr. Cauthen and her representative insinuated that someone might have lied about informing San Antonio’s mastermind, Gregg Popovich. He declined to comment on Primo’s initial release and offered the following statement to the press in his first public comment since Dr. Cauthen’s announcement.

Before diverging any further into this story, it’s important to acknowledge first that basketball concepts, organizational analysis and speculation don’t actually matter in this situation. What matters foremost is that any woman who was victimized in these situations gets justice. With that being said, the basketball world is looking twice at something they never questioned before.

An uncharacteristic twist puts the once-untouchable Spurs culture on trial.

To this point, public reporting on the lawsuit only acknowledges that three people besides Primo and Dr. Cauthen were aware of these allegations. They include the aforementioned Wright, human resources head Kara Allen and legal counsel Brandon James. Regardless of who did and didn’t know, which will come to light through the legal process, even one person within the organization brushing this situation to the side or trying to cover it up is a failure on the behalf of the entire Spurs organization.

Beyond Popovich’s recent statement, all communication has come through Spurs Sports & Entertainment CEO R.C. Buford, who was succeeded by Wright following his promotion. A brief and nondescript statement was released on the night Primo was waived. Then another was shared via San Antonio’s PR team in light of Dr. Cauthen’s press conference on Thursday:

At this juncture, the Spurs are operating largely like the star player who defined the franchise: Tim Duncan. Relatively quiet, not going too far into detail, but making considerable statements with few words. It’s fair to question whether it’s right of the Spurs to limit details — we’ll let the court of public opinion decide on that. But for now, all indications from San Antonio point toward the franchise’s belief in the culture it thrives to uphold. All sides of the story will be shared in due time.

The San Antonio Spurs culture and organization approach crossroads.

San Antonio hasn’t been impervious to failure. The Kawhi Leonard departure set this franchise back for many years and has been followed by many missteps along the way, but none of those truly fractured the way that people in the know viewed this organization as a whole. In fact, many were quick to give the benefit of the doubt due to the team’s long history of making the right choices and valuing character above all.

Yet through the current doubts and impending litigation, the Spurs’ culture isn’t down for the count. If it’s revealed that this situation came down to the actions of Primo and someone else acting in their own best interests, then San Antonio has a chance to at least try redeeming itself.

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When the full facts come to light, and the organization is able to offer recourse without impeding the legal process, we’re going to learn what the Spurs culture is really about.