In a franchise that has no time for spotlights, with a roster that has no interest in headlines, R.C. Buford may be the very embodiment of the all-for-one San Antonio Spurs. For more than two decades he has toiled in the shadows, happy to let the attention fall on coach Gregg Popovich and the team that Buford has played such a pivotal role in assembling. He quietly -- happily -- lives in the back channels and has built a reputation as one of the most respected executives in the NBA. Yet for all his impressive work over the previous 11 years as a general manager and architect of the most enduring success story in modern American sports, Buford had never been honoured by his peers as the leagues executive of the year. Until now. Buford won the award Wednesday, and as is the custom in the Alamo City, did as much as he could to downplay his significant contributions to a team that posted the best record in the NBA. "I think its not why we do what we do," Buford said. "I think its a great honour for the group of people that have been here and have been through here that have built and an ownership group thats allowed a continuity to build a program that were proud of so to be recognized as a program that people respect by your peers, thats rewarding." That Buford had never won the award before while helping to put together a team that won four championships and has posted a staggering 15 straight 50-win seasons has been one of the great mysteries in league annals. Hes helped put the Spurs at the forefront of the international invasion, implemented a system that demands commitment and humility over recognition and individual achievement, and has been partly responsible for so many teams pilfering his staff to run front offices or teams across the league. Yet he may have finally earned the award in his 12th season as GM because of what he didnt do. In the wake of a devastating loss to Miami in the NBA Finals last season, Buford didnt panic. He didnt give up on an aging Manu Ginobili. He didnt let Tiago Splitter get lured away by big money elsewhere. He followed the Spurs creed: Stay the course. Believe in the system. Never give in to outside influence. While other teams chased huge stars and made big splashes, Buford quietly re-signed Ginobili and Splitter and added second-tier free agent Marco Belinelli. The moves werent flashy, but were exactly what the Spurs, who enter Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals on Friday night leading Portland 1-0, needed to recover from that bitter defeat. "Its pretty cool," Popovich said. "Were all excited for him; long overdue. Hes done a great job for a very long time. Were giving him the requisite amount of you-know-what all over the offices. He walks down the halls we hit the walls we hit the sides to make room for him." Buford received nine first-place votes and 58 total points to win the award. Phoenixs Ryan McDonough (47) finished second for his superb job in turning the Suns from an afterthought into a 48-win team that just missed the playoffs. Neil Olshey, who added Robin Lopez, Dorell Wright and Thomas Robinson to bolster the Trail Blazers depth and get them into the playoffs, finished third in the voting with 34 points. Torontos Masai Ujiri and Miamis Pat Riley rounded out the top five. Popovich and Buford have made the Spurs the envy of the league, assembling one of the most uniquely stable systems in professional sports built around Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Ginobili, a trio that has won three championships together and keep coming back for more. "Weve been working with each other for a long time," Popovich said. "We participate in everything. Its been a great relationship in that regard. We share everything its benefited both of us and the organization without a doubt. Just having that ability to communicate and having an owner that allows us to do that." Popovich gets more of the credit for making the Spurs machine go, and thats just fine with Buford. But most around the league, and certainly everyone in San Antonio, recognizes what a big role Buford has played in helping the Spurs avoid the teardowns that almost every franchise has endured since he and Pop took over. "You recognize how difficult that is and how fortunate weve been that an ownership group has allowed us to stay together and have the opportunity to survive through the growing pains," Buford said. "To have a group of players that have wanted to be a part of what this community of San Antonio and what our fans mean to them. To have wanted to stay with an ownership group the sacrifices that theyve made to make this a unique environment and then how theyve handled themselves that presents a platform that other players want to come join. "Again, were not in this to win an award. Were in this to try to win a championship. Thats the reward were all hoping for." 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The R&A announced Monday that golfs oldest championship will return to Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland for the first time since Max Faulkner won in 1951. MINNEAPOLIS -- Sometimes the game can shift with one swing. Carlos Beltran took a big cut, sent a fastball soaring into the seats in right field and snapped the foundering New York Yankees out of their funk. Beltrans three-run homer Thursday night lifted Masahiro Tanaka to his majors-leading 12th win and helped the Yankees stop a season-worst five-game losing streak with a 7-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins. "We have to find a way to score more runs. Theres no doubt about that. We played very poor at home," Beltran said. Zelous Wheeler homered in his big-league debut after nearly eight years in the minors. David Robertson notched his 19th save by striking out the side in a hitless ninth inning, and the Yankees started an 11-game road trip with a sigh-of-relief performance that put their record back at the .500 mark. "It felt great. Ive been waiting for this moment for a long time, and hopefully I can take advantage of it," Wheeler said. Phil Hughes (8-5) was rolling along against his former team, leading 2-0 until Beltran cleared the tall wall in right following consecutive singles to start the fifth. Wheeler went deep two batters later. "Not knowing much about him, in a 3-1 count, Im going to challenge him," Hughes said. "He put a good swing on it." Wheeler had a big smile on his face afterward. "Every time you see a story like that, a guy thats spent a lot of time in the minor leagues and all of a sudden comes to the big leagues and being able to do what he did today, its just special," Beltran said. So was Beltrans big hit, considering the slump the Yankees brought with them on the road. "Those are the type of things we need to be successful in the American League," manager Joe Girardi said. Tanaka (12-3) allowed a season-high four runs. He finished seven innings with nine hits and no walks while striking out a season-low three. "Theyre not going to be perfect every time. Hes been about as consistent as you can be as a starting pitcher. He just wasnt quite as sharp," Girardi said. Through his interpreter, Tanaka said this was one of his worst starts of the season.ddddddddddddThrowing only 85 pitches, at least, allowed the star Japanese rookie to maintain some freshness for the next turn. "Not too much pressure, but I obviously understood where the team was," Tanaka said. With Eduardo Escobar on first after an RBI single in the seventh, Tanaka dodged serious trouble. Sam Fulds screaming line drive went straight to Mark Teixeira, who easily stepped on first base for the double play to preserve the three-run lead. Chris Parmelee drove in a run with a double in the first and Kurt Suzuki and Kendrys Morales had RBI groundouts, but the sputtering Twins missed their opportunities to put bigger numbers on the board like the Yankees did against Hughes. The Twins have lost eight of 10 and fell a season-worst eight games under .500. Wheeler had a single to help spark the three-run rally in the seventh, too, scoring on Brett Gardners single after a one-out RBI double by Brendan Ryan chased Hughes. Derek Jeter drove in a run with a groundout. The Yankees havent been nearly as potent at the plate as they are paid to be, ranking 12th in runs and 10th in homers in the American League. They totalled one run over Tanakas last two starts, both losses, but this was the breakout they needed. "Hes very competitive. Hes in control of the game," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. NOTES: Beltran passed Lance Berkman for fourth place on the career list for home runs by switch hitters. With 367, hes behind Mickey Mantle (536), Eddie Murray (504) and Chipper Jones (468). ... Parmelee stretched his hitting streak to 13 games. Hes hitting .440 (22 for 50) during the run. ... Yankees assistant GM for pro personnel Billy Eppler interviewed Thursday for San Diegos vacant GM spot. ... The Yankees will send Chase Whitley (3-2, 4.70 ERA) to the mound Friday afternoon for the 10th start of his rookie season, and Kyle Gibson (7-6, 3.77 ERA) will pitch for the Twins. The Yankees are 5-1 in Whitleys six turns on the road. Gibsons 1.54 ERA at home is the best among qualifying AL pitchers. ' ' '