Gregg Popovich is the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, an NBA basketball team. To say that he is successful would be an understatement. Consider the following:
- He has coached the team since 1996—that’s longer than any other current coach in professional basketball, football or hockey.
- He has more wins with the Spurs than any other coach with a single team in NBA history.
- He coached for part of the year in 1996; since then his team has made the playoff every year.
- His team has a winning record against every team in the NBA.
- His team has won the NBA championship five times.
What makes his success so remarkable is that San Antonio is a small market team. They can’t compete with teams from Los Angeles, New York and other large markets when it comes to signing great players who have become free agents. Nonetheless, Popovich’s teams have had a winning record in every complete season he has coached. What is the secret to the winning culture he has created?
I’m sure there are many answers but the one that stands out to me has to do with the team meals that the Spurs participate in. All organizations have team meals, but none of them the kind of meals the Spurs do, and no coach understands the power of the table more than Popovich does. It is his practice to host (and pay!) for elaborate, multi-course meals lasting two to three hours on a regular basis throughout the season. He chooses one of the best restaurants in whatever city they are playing in and after the game, everyone associated with the team gathers there. The leisurely meal helps everyone unwind, refuel and refocus. It also builds camaraderie.
One player said this, “Dinners help us to have a better understanding of each individual person, which brings us closer to each other—and, on the court, understand each other better.” Another said, “To take time to slow down and truly dine with someone in this day and age . . . you naturally connect on a different level than just on the court or in the locker room.”
None of this should come as a surprise to students of the gospels. Over and over (especially in Luke’s gospel), we see Jesus use the table to welcome sinners, teach Pharisees, reach out to the lost (Zacchaeus), nurture His disciples and much, much more. We see this continued by the early church (Acts 2:46, 11:3; Galatians 2:11-13; 2 Peter 2:13; Jude 12). At these tables, Jesus is at the center, everyone is welcome, and everyone is nurtured.
Healthy churches have healthy tables. Healthy disciples have healthy tables. Of course, all of this goes against the grain of our hurry, scurry and eat-food-fast culture, but that’s one reason it is so appealing and effective. Life slows down, people are made to feel valued and lasting relationships are built. If you are seeking to enrich your life as well as that of others—the table is a good place to start.