Sean Marks' days as an over-achiever in the world's greatest basketball league have not ended with his retirement. Marc Hinton reports.
There are good situations, there are great situations and then there is the one that Sean Marks finds himself in now at the San Antonio Spurs.
Even this boy from the Shore turned NBA pioneer admits there are times when he still feels the need to pinch himself. Right now is one of them as he nears the end of year one of a whirlwind front office apprenticeship with the hottest team in hoops, and quite possibly one of the finest organisations in sport.
Marks has made a living out of being the right guy in the right place at the right time. He played 11 seasons in the NBA by being everybody's favourite team-mate, and now he's extending that career off court at the Spurs, who currently lead the Oklahoma City Thunder 2-1 in the Western Conference finals.
Many believe the Spurs, who had won 10 straight playoff games before Friday's defeat in Oklahoma, are on the verge of their fifth championship.
And if you're watching closely you might well see Marks popping up in coverage. He's the tall fellow with the receding head of curls, and he's usually smiling.
And why wouldn't he? When Marks decided to finally call time on his NBA career last year, a long-standing arrangement with the Spurs kicked in. He'd played with the Texas club between 2003 and 2006 and was part of the 2005 championship squad (and has a ring to prove it). The Spurs, even then, could see the potential in the Kiwi who understood what needed to be done to make his team better.
So Marks made the call and, in the time it took to say "Remember the Alamo", he had himself a job in San Antonio, mixing duties between the front office and practice court.
Marks spends part of his time in player development, where he works closely with assistant coaches Chip Engelland and Chad Forcier.
"I've been learning the ropes about what it takes on a daily basis, getting guys prepared physically and mentally to play at this level," he says.
The rest of his time is spent learning off renowned general manager RC Buford and his two principal assistants Danny Ferry, former general manager of the Cleveland Cavs, and the highly respected Dennis Lindsay.
"They've given me projects to work on, and I've been able to get stuck into the basketball operations side and what it takes to run a franchise like this."
To cut to the chase, Marks has walked into a dream role for any aspiring NBA executive. He is, it is said, learning off the very best in the business. Given the size of their market – and payroll – the Spurs are considered the poster franchise of efficiency.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more," agrees the one-time Rangitoto College standout.
"The Spurs have been just fantastic and it's been a really good year just to get my feet wet and learn.
"To have the success they've had both on and off the court in a small market, and for me to be privy to so much of what they do has been an eye-opening experience."
There are Harvard business graduates who would kill to have the access to Buford that Marks does.
"His door is pretty much always open," he says. "The confidence they've showed in me has been great and I've valued everything they've done."
Marks says he and the Spurs will "figure out" his role beyond this year, but suffice to say he's on the NBA escalator, and the only way is up. Later, he concedes, becoming a GM somewhere would be the "ultimate".
"I know where I want to be, but at this point it's beneficial to get my hands dirty at both [front office and player development].
"I'll do whatever they see fit and wherever they see fit."
So exactly what makes the Spurs so good (some say the current side is their best ever). "How long have you got?" Marks responds.
"When you have a big three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili who are all so unselfish it helps," he says.
"None of those guys are into individual accolades. And Pop [coach Gregg Popovich] has just impressed his will on the team. How Pop thinks is exactly how we roll. He makes everybody know from the top down just how lucky we are to do this."
The Spurs are also the ultimate family organisation, an outfit New Zealand's own Breakers have unashamedly modelled themselves on.
"Pop has as top priority to make sure everybody's family is taken care of," adds Marks, "so for players, when they get on court, all they have to worry about is basketball."
What then, of our latest NBA hopeful, Steven Adams? The youngster, embarking on a college career at Pittsburgh, should heed Marks'advice.
"He certainly has the talent and the build, so the sky's the limit. My advice is just to make most of his opportunities, and enjoy it. Those four years of college for me were the best years.
"Just let it play out. And this time next year, see how that first year went. If he knows he's going to be a high lottery pick I don't see why he wouldn't go to the NBA."
Who knows? Maybe one day Marks could be wheeling and dealing for the Kiwi superstar.
In the meantime, he has another championship run to play his part in.
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