Sometimes you have to recognize greatness. This is one of those times. Earlier this week, Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the NBA at the age of 40. He played 19 seasons, all with the San Antonio Spurs. He walks away as a 5-time Champion, 3-time Finals MVP, 2-time league MVP, and 15-time All-Star. The boy from St Croix who dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer before Hurricane Hugo destroyed the pool and dashed those hopes, leaves the game as the best power forward to ever grace a basketball court.
The Big Fundamental leaves the game as one of only three players to have 1,000 wins in his career and one of four players to rank in the top 15 in career points, rebounds and blocks. He played the game his way. The right way. Not always with a ton of flash, but always with class. As the Western Conference got younger and quicker and flashier around him, he continued to dominate. Even as he aged into his late-thirties.
His partnership with Gregg Popovich is one of the most successful player/coach relationships in the history of the NBA. Duncan believed in the system in San Antonio and led his teammates by the example he set on the court. And because of that, they were competitive every single year of his career. They never missed the playoffs while he was there, even as the cast around him changed. If that isn’t a testament to his talent and determination then I don’t know what is. While in San Antonio, he accumulated 157 wins, good for 2nd all time, and his 164 postseason double-doubles are the most in the history of the NBA.
But he never bragged about any of it. Never let the world know that he was the best at his position ever. Because he didn’t need to. Tim Duncan let his play do the talking. And because his game was so good, it spoke louder than any words ever could. He was as humble as any star athlete I’ve ever seen. He’s the kind of guy that any coach would love to have. No drama, no trash talk in the media, no stress. Just wins.
Tim Duncan is one of the few players that didn’t play in Detroit that I have an unending admiration for. As evidenced by his Finals MVP that year, he was one of the most important parts of the 2005 Spurs team that stole the back-to-back opportunity away from my beloved Pistons, and even though I harbored resentment against him for a while, I was at the same time awe-struck by him. His hardworking demeanor was the kind of thing we love in Detroit and I can’t help but be jealous that the Spurs got to have him all to themselves for all those years.
Nothing lasts forever, though, and regardless of the fact that Tim Duncan helped lead the Spurs to a 67-15 record last season, the best in franchise history, it was time to move on to the next chapter. For him and for us. His 19 years with the same team is second only to Kobe Bryant’s 20 years with the Lakers, with one major difference. Tim was good for each and every one of them.
The Spurs organization should be thankful. Spurs fans should be thankful. NBA fans should be thankful. All sports fans should be thankful. Thankful for the fact that Tim Duncan was scared of sharks, and wouldn’t practice with his swim team in the ocean. If he had faced his fears we all would have missed out on a hall of fame beast of a power forward. Thank you Tim Duncan, for showing me that sometimes if you avoid your fears then the entire world wins. So long, number-21. You shall be missed.