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With Spurs ready for Victor Wembanyama, a new training home is taking shape

ByGuillermo Garcia

Jul 23, 2023 ,
With Spurs ready for Victor Wembanyama, a new training home is taking shape

There is at least 90,000 square feet of space for basketball activities in the new home.

SAN ANTONIO (AP) – RC Buford has spent nearly a decade planning this. He’s been all over the world, visited 200 different places, seen what works for other teams. Ideas kept coming, not just from the basketball landscape, but from skiing and soccer and esports and cycling and even Formula 1. Hour after hour, day after day, he became more absorbed in the idea and more immersed in how to make it a reality.

His mission is almost complete.

The San Antonio Spurs — just in time for rookie No. 1 overall draft pick Victor Wembanyama — are about to get a new practice home, one that could be among the most advanced in the world.

It’s called The Rock at La Cantera, which will house the Spurs’ soon-to-be-completed new facility as part of what will be a $500 million complex once all of the on-site construction is complete. It’s not just a gym with a big changing room and toys; it will be part of what the team envisions as a “global center for human and athletic excellence” — not to mention a major commitment to the city of San Antonio.

“We’re not trying to build this to be the best in the NBA,” said Buford, the Spurs’ general manager and part of all five championship runs. “We’re going to build it for our needs and have the best environment we can to help develop the Spurs culture.” It’s not about being better or worse than anyone else.”

It’s a natural core for Buford; he was the architect of the Spurs’ teams and now he’s basically the architect of the next Spurs building. There is no detail that is overlooked; the practice area at the new facility has basically the exact same dimensions and layout as the current team — even the height, just over 26 feet, is the same, to try to mimic the same acoustics when coach Gregg Popovich barks things at practice — and there’s even a reason the new pizza oven near the team dining room is set up where it is.

Popovich has yet to be inside the new complex, which is still very much a construction site but will be ready for training camp in just over two months. He gave Buford two mandates for the new facility: take care of the people and protect the culture. And Spurs players, from the moment they park their cars in an underground garage, will be reminded of the culture.

The new complex will be part of what the team envisions as a “global center for excellence and athletic performance.”

“We really tried to have that idea and that sense of arrival,” said Phil Cullen, the Spurs’ director of basketball operations and organizational development — and the facility’s project manager. “So the players go up the stairs, they start seeing sight lines on the court and then they’ll see the championship banners.” And basically, what this space is based on, is the quote from Pound the Rock.

This is Spurs’ belief, the quote from the Danish social reformer Jacob Riis: “Look at a stonecutter hammering his rock, perhaps a hundred times without so much as a crack showing in it.” But at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it wasn’t the last blow that did it, but everything that went before.

It also provides a happy coincidence: It took the team preparing the site for construction about four months to grind through enough rock for part of the building’s foundation, moving tons and tons of rock an inch or two at a time.

Measures were taken to protect the environment and reduce the demand for resources; there is a water harvesting system, solar panels on the roof, windows even dishes to prevent glare and keep the building cooler. It will be the largest mass timber structure in Texas, Spurs said.

“The Holt family gave a direct mandate that we had to develop this to make an impact for our community,” Buford said, speaking of the Spurs’ ownership. “It might not just be the best training facility in the world.” We had to develop it so that the community could interact with it.”

The Spurs outgrew their current practice facility — 37,000 square feet, with an Olympic-sized outdoor pool in the back so Tim Duncan could swim laps — a long time ago. There is at least 90,000 square feet of space for basketball activities in the new home, with more locker room space, larger meeting rooms, a much larger video area for teams and more. (Still unclear: whether Popovich will have a wine cabinet like he does in the current facility.)

The original plan called for an expansion of the existing facility. That plan didn’t last long.

“It became clear that the cost of doing what we need to happen here was actually making it viable to build somewhere else,” Buford said as he toured the site, wearing a hard hat bearing his name.

There will be several large viewing windows in what will be called the Spurs Club above the training ground. There will be a bar in a long reception area behind the windows. Buford and Cullen get equally excited as they look out the windows, away from the field, and point to what is now just a pile of dirt and rocks. Over time, there will be a park for the community to enjoy, a splash pad, a restaurant, a large outdoor screen where people can come to watch movies or games. There’s already a huge dog park, and the complex sits on a trail that basically circles the entire city — about 130 miles in all.

In the new performance center, the hydrotherapy pools are 8 feet deep to allow even the tallest players to be fully immersed in the water.

“You think about opportunities to participate in family home evenings,” Cullen said. “The concept and the idea was that families could come here, have an experience that they didn’t have to pay a dime for.” If you want to come and just have fun with your kids, that’s what it’s all about.”

Again, every detail seems to be thought out. The hydrotherapy pools are 8 feet deep to allow even the tallest players — Wembanyama is 7 feet, 3-1/2 inches — to be fully immersed in the water. There is plenty of space on site for everything from basic sports training needs to medical imaging. There are rooms designed with mental health in mind. It will have enough storage space to make Spurs’ kit managers the envy of the league.

They’re building a palace, just in time for Wembanyama’s rookie season and the Spurs’ return to the NBA spotlight after a four-year rebuild. It’s also lucky that all the stars seem to be aligning at once.

“It’s very serendipitous, and it’s also incredibly emotional and comes with a lot of responsibility,” Buford said.

Some Spurs employees say the project is part of Buford’s legacy. He shoots that speech down immediately.

“This is not for me. This is for our team,” Buford said. “This is for our community.