Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the NBA on July 11, 2016, without fanfare or drama. If someone said they were shocked Duncan elected to forego the farewell tour ala Kobe “The Black Mamba” Bryant then you can be certain of two things; one they didn’t know jack about the quiet, gentle giant, and two, they aren’t real NBA fans.
Gregg Popovich talks about what Tim Duncan means to San Antonio
Anyone who has watched the unassuming way Duncan played knew it would end like this. We knew one day we’d find his locker empty, and The Big Fundamental gone. Today’s press conference didn’t pan out exactly like that, but it was close. Surprisingly, Gregg Popovich didn’t ask the press in his characteristic sarcastic way, “did you expect him to play forever? While Duncan stood by quietly watching and listening, Popovich spent it talking about one of the greatest PF the NBA has ever seen.
“There’s a natural order to things and this is it.”
The art of saying volumes without saying anything must be taught in the San Antonio Spurs’ Rookie camp.
In an uncharacteristic move for Pop, he talked about his 19-year journey with arguably the greatest power forward of all time.
“I would not be standing here if it wasn’t for Tim Duncan. I’d be fat still trying to play basketball. But he’s why I’m standing. He’s made livings for hundreds of us, staff and coaches, over the years and never said a word, just came to work every day. Came early, stayed late, was there for every single person, from the top of the roster to the bottom of the roster, because that’s who he was, in all those respects.”
A couple times during the 15 minutes presser Popovich had to pause to collect himself. Dipping his head several times the scruff of his tough chin grazes the black t-shirt he was wearing with Tim Duncan on it. Popovich, Duncan and the Spurs won 5 championships together.
19 years ago Pop promised Duncan’s father he’d leave the game the same way he came in: humble, respectful, and honorable. The coach kept his word. Timmie, as his coach affectionately calls him, is 20 years older, but he remains humble, respectful and honorable.
The Big Fundamentals of a first ballot Hall of Famer
Duncan’s impact on the NBA and the Spurs particularly is almost unfathomable. He is one of only two players to win Championships in 3 different decades. The Big Fundamental won championships with the Spurs in 1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014. The last time the Spurs missed the playoffs was in 1997, way when Duncan played for Wake Forest in NC.
Tim Duncan and the Spurs made the playoffs every season he suited up for them. Need more perspective, the last time the Spurs missed the playoffs: Michael Jordan played with the flu; Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet; Internet Explorer was all the rage; Princess Diana, and Mother Teresa died; Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear; and Howard Stern was just a radio DJ who had yet to shock anyone. Duncan’s game, his personality, and his loyalty to the team and the San Antonio fans are throwbacks to the NBA of yesteryear.
His career stats are astounding. When you realize he quietly retires with 5 rings and he’s spent the last 19 seasons rewriting the history books, it should end any talk that flash is more important than fundamentals in the NBA. Duncan joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish in the history books. They are the only players to win 1,000 games or more during their NBA career. Even though Kobe Bryant played a year longer with a lot more press he didn’t break the 1,000 mark.
Duncan and John Salley are the only two players to win NBA titles in 3 consecutive decades. Which is quite a feat considering that technically the gentle giant didn’t play two decades. He’s ranked 14th in points (26,496), sixth in rebounds (15,091) and fifth in blocks (3,020).
He joins an elite club of four players who rank in the top 15 in all three statistical categories, joining Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal.
Duncan won the Wooden Award, NBA Rookie of the Year, NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP and NBA All-Star Game MVP. Duncan, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan are the only three in NBA history to accomplish the sweep.
Tim Duncan's legacy
The NBA’s slogan: Legends are made in June could be his calling card. He ranks 2nd all-time in post-season wins with 157. Duncan is sixth in points (5,172), third in rebounds (2,859) and first in double-doubles (164) in postseason history. Humility and honor are as much apart of his legacy as the opposing force he is on the court. When younger players try to trash talk, Duncan smiles and offers them pointers and constructive criticism during the game. How many more points would he have if he hadn’t told guys what they were doing wrong against him? It’s mind blowing to think he amassed these numbers quietly, and methodically. He approached the game like a job. He went to work, he clocked in, he mastered the mundane. He wasn’t flashy, he was never boastful, he was consistent, dependable, he is The Big Fundamental.
Since drafting Duncan in 1997 season, the Spurs won 1,072 regular-season games, that’s 155 more wins than the closest team in wins over the same period. San Antonio won 5 NBA Chamionships, all under Duncan and Popovich’s tenure. Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili won 575 regular-season games together, the most by a trio in NBA history. Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili registered 126 career playoff wins together, also the most in NBA history by a trio. Magic Johnson, Michael Cooper, and Abdul-Jabbar, who won 110 playoff games together hold down the number two spot.
The next NBA chapter
It’s certain the NBA will have more stars. They might even shine brighter than The Big Fundamental. But few if any will have the impact on the fundamentals of the game. Will any be as consistent? Looking to the horizon only 1 player seems ready to take on the cape of humility Duncan wears. Ironically it’s his teammate, and DPOY Kawhi Leonard. Something tells me the highest compliment you could pay to Leonard is that he plays the game like Duncan, quietly, without fanfare. That in and of itself is impressive.
Once upon a time, everyone wanted to be like Mike. NBA players can’t wait for the comparisons to Jordan or Kobe to begin. Today’s rookies spend their lives tripping over themselves trying to fill Kobe’s shoes.
Mark your calendars for September 2021. Duncan is an automatic first ballot Hall of Fame. Maybe, he’ll say a few words at his induction ceremony, but don’t be surprised if Gregg Popovich is standing at another podium 4 years from now slightly choked up thanking Timmie. Thanks for the memories Duncan, thank you for your consistency, humble spirit, and showing a generation of children what true greatness and class looks like.