As Spurs prepare for Wembanyama, a new training home is taking shape

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — RC Buford has spent almost a decade plotting this. He has been all over the world, visiting 200 locations and seeing 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 engrossed in the idea and more immersed in how to make it a reality.

His task is almost done.

The San Antonio Spurs — just in time for Victor Wembanyama’s rookie season as No. 1 overall — are getting a new practice home, one that might be among the most advanced in the world.

It’s called The Rock at La Cantera, which will host the Spurs’ soon-to-be-completed new facility as part of what will be a $500 million complex once the entire building on the site is complete. It’s not just a gym with a big changing room and some toys; it’s going to be part of what the team envisions as a “global center of excellence in human and athletic performance” — not to mention a massive 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’ CEO and part of all five of the franchise’s championship runs. “We want to build this to our needs and have the best environment we can to help develop Spurs’ culture. It’s not about being better or worse than anyone.”

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

Popovich has not yet been inside the new complex, which is still very much a construction zone but will be ready for training camp in a little more than 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 inside the underground garage, will be reminded of the culture.

“We really tried to get this idea and this concept with a sense of arrival,” said Phil Cullen, senior director of basketball operations and organizational development for the Spurs — and the project manager for the facility. “So the players walk up the stairs, they’ll start seeing the sight lines on the field, and then they’ll see the championship banners. And basically what this room is built on is the Pound the Rock quote.”

It is a Spurs credo, quoted from the Danish social reformer Jacob Riis: “See a stonecutter hammering away at his stone, perhaps a hundred times without so much as a crack in it. But at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”

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

Steps were taken to protect the environment and reduce demand on resources; there is a water collection system, solar panels on the roof, windows even angled the right way to protect against glare and keep the building cooler. It will be the largest solid wood building in Texas, Spurs said.

“The Holt family directly mandated that we needed to develop this to have an impact on our community,” said Buford, speaking of the Spurs’ ownership. “It couldn’t just be the best practice facility in the world. We had to develop it so that the community could interact with it.”

The Spurs outgrew their current practice home — 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 operations in the new home, with more locker rooms, larger meeting rooms, a much larger team video area 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 current facility. That plan didn’t last long.

“It became clear that the cost of making what we need to happen here really made it cost-effective to build somewhere else,” Buford said as he gave a tour of the site, wearing a hard hat that bears his name.

There will be a pair of 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 are now just piles of dirt and rocks. Eventually there will be a park for the local community to enjoy, a splash pad, a restaurant, a large outdoor screen where people can come and watch movies or games. There’s already a huge dog park, and the complex sits on a trail that pretty much rings the entire city — about 130 miles in all.

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

Again, every detail seems to have been thought through. The hydrotherapy pools are 8 feet deep to allow even the tallest players — Wembanyama is 7 feet, 3 1/2 inches — to be completely submerged in the water. There is enough space on site for everything from basic athletic training needs to medical imaging. There are rooms designed with mental health in mind. It will have enough storage space to make Spurs’ equipment 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 good luck that all the stars seem to align at once.

“It’s very random 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 talk down immediately.

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

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