When Charlie Amato, Sam Houston State ’70, arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1966, he was happy to see a familiar face. Gary Dudley, Sam Houston State ’69, whom he’d befriended one year during a childhood spent moving around the Gulf Coast, was equally happy to see Amato come through the SigEp house during recruitment. The two had lost touch over the years between sixth grade and college, but they’ve been connected ever since.
Today, Amato and Dudley are not only SigEp chapter brothers, but also business partners and minority owners of the San Antonio Spurs — with five NBA championship rings apiece to prove it.
“It’s been one of the great joys of my life,” Amato said. “You make a lot of good business deals, but nothing is as exciting as winning a championship.”
“The river parades are amazing,” Dudley said of San Antonio’s habitual celebration after each of the team’s five titles in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014. “It’s just a kick in the butt to watch the fans enjoy it.”
The two founded Southwest Business Corporation (SWBC) together in 1976, primarily selling insurance to credit unions. Dudley was the first to enter the industry after he was drafted and returned from six months of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. Amato’s first job out of school was in banking, and Dudley later helped get him an interview at the insurance company where he worked.
After a few years of working together, they decided to start their own company within the same field. Both were unhappy with the customer service provided by their previous employer and now say they founded their business with the values they learned from their SigEp experience in mind.
“We loved the Fraternity for a lot of reasons, and one was the respect we gave each other,” Dudley said. “The success we had [in business] started back with how SigEps believed in treating people.”
Amato said they built their company not too differently from how their chapter recruited new members.
“He has strengths that I don’t have, and I have strengths that he doesn’t have,” Amato said of his partnership with Dudley. “And we looked for people with multiple talents.”
Today, SWBC has grown to employ more than 3,000 people and provides mortgage and investment services in addition to insurance.
Their success building a major company from the ground up led to a very important phone call in 1993. Then-Spurs owner Red McCombs had decided to sell the team so he could purchase the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Because there was no clause tying the Spurs to San Antonio, it was crucial that local investors like Amato and Dudley step up. Otherwise, the city could have lost its team before the unprecedented run of success that was soon to come.
Dudley and Amato joined an initial group of roughly 20 owners who took over the business operations of the team. Today, the group operates as Spurs Sports & Entertainment and also owns minor league hockey and soccer teams, Austin’s NBA Development League team, and San Antonio’s WNBA team, the Stars.
It was Amato’s idea to rename the group’s D-League team and solidify its connection to the NBA franchise. Originally the Austin Toros, he suggested that rebranding them the Austin Spurs would immediately increase fan interest, sell more tickets, and generate corporate sponsorships. He said he has since been proven right.
Coincidentally, the Austin Spurs are under the leadership of another SigEp, General Manager Tim Salier, Monmouth ’96, who was named the D-League’s executive of the year after overseeing the team’s first year with a new name in 2015.
In addition to all the success the Spurs ownership group has had on the court, Dudley and Amato are proud of what they’ve accomplished off of it. A lot of their time is devoted to Silver & Black Give Back, which manages the team’s charity work. The organization raises money to support schools and other youth organizations in the community, paving basketball courts for underprivileged kids, and sponsoring a summer basketball league. They also put on events like the annual Tux ’N Tennies, which features auctions and skits by Spurs players in attendance.
Both Dudley and Amato are quick to credit the Spurs’ lengthy run of success to General Manager R.C. Buford and Head Coach Gregg Popovich.
But a big part of what helps make the Spurs one of the premier franchises in all of American sports is the continuity they’ve had in those leadership roles. The owners feel that their job is to put talented people in charge and then let them do their jobs.
As Amato explained it, “I told Pop I’d stay out of the coaching business if he stayed out of the financial service business.”
And Dudley, who said he keeps his championship rings at work so clients can wear them and take pictures, has no problems keeping up that arrangement.
“It’s worked well,” he said with a laugh.
As well as any other team in pro sports over the last 20 years.