Tim Duncan has been called many things over his 16 year career. The Big Fundamental. The best power forward ever. The best player of his generation. Boring. Old. My friend Francis has referred to him as the Ageless Wonder this season. I’ve been following him since the Spurs won the lockout title in ’99, I’ve settled on calling him Timmy D. It baffles me how many people I know take his greatness for granted, they brush him off as if he was inconsequential. Most often with a comment like, “They’re the Spurs it’s what they do.” Ho-hum, nothing to see here, move along to something more interesting to talk about. Well, after the Eastern Conference Finals between the Heat and Pacers ends, the Spurs for the fifth time in the Timmy D and Pop era will be waiting. I for one will be cheering for them to get number five – however I did not always feel this way about the best power forward ever.
I was nine years old when Duncan and the Spurs won their first title. It didn’t really register with me, although any team that won wouldn’t have mattered to me. It wasn’t just a lockout year, it was a lockout year after the year Michael Jordan retired. My interest in basketball didn’t decline but my interest in the NBA did. I began watching once the playoffs started and I remember watching the Finals that year, but I didn’t understand basketball enough to appreciate what Duncan was doing. I was accustomed to watching Jordan play and Duncan wasn’t Jordan, he was a big man. However, he wasn’t the first post-Jordan superstar I latched onto: there was Vince, but he couldn’t hold off the force of personality which was Allen Iverson.
Maybe it was the tattoos or the braids or the attitude which drew me in. The fact that he looked cooler than everyone else was factor. However, the main thing from watching Iverson it was clear how hard he was playing. He never was dogging it. You might not have wanted to play with him but you knew he cared about winning. However, after their trip to the Finals, it was apparent Iverson’s teammates weren’t going to keep the 76er’s in title contention for long. It didn’t matter how cool he looked, or how hard he played, it looked as if Shaq and Kobe were going to rule the league and there was nothing anyone could do about it. Well, except for Shaq and Kobe. Their feud is so extensive it even has it’s own Wikipedia page. Which team was there to fill the void of a Laker implosion? Duncan and the Spurs. They might have never won back-to-back titles but four championships isn’t bad either. That’s more than the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, those exciting and fun to watch Bibby/Webber Kings, and the Seven Seconds or Less Suns. The Spurs have evolved with the times, stayed ahead of the trend or kept pace with the changing of the seasons. Always at the center of it has been Pop and Timmy D.
Tim Duncan has played for the same franchise his entire career. Not many players in the history of the game can say that. Through his entire career the Spurs have never entertained the idea of trading him. Duncan doesn’t kick up drama, he doesn’t complain about his coach or management, he’s never asked for a trade, and he’s kept his private life private. I mean I know nothing about him – when news broke earlier this week that he was going through a divorce, my first thought was, “Wait Duncan’s married? Does he have kids? I have never seen his family before.” This shouldn’t matter and it doesn’t; it’s none of my business and Duncan keeps it that way. Some people might take a lack of headlines as boring. What’s boring about being the model professional? That’s what Duncan is. After 16 seasons of watching him play, nothing surprises you anymore. He brings the same level of brilliance every game. The Spurs have won 70% of the games he has played in. They have won 50 games every season (save for the lockout year where they went 37-13). What else could you ask for? That’s the definition of a superstar. He still is a low post threat, the offense can run through him in the high post, he can execute a pick and roll game with any decent guard, and if all else fails he has that good old bank shot. On defense he communicates with everyone, directs everything, he holds down the paint, and oversees all the action. If you look at his PER 36 Minute averages, they are so consistent it’s scary. They are never higher than 22.6/12.0/3.2 (points/rebounds/blocks) and never lower than 17.1/10.5/1.7.
I don’t know the moment I realized Duncan was the player to fill the void after Jordan for me. I guess I was tired of players complaining about teammates, asking for trades, or coming into seasons out of shape. I know most people would wonder why I didn’t gravitate towards Shaq and Kobe (especially Kobe since I love Jordan so much) but they never appealed to me. They didn’t look like they enjoyed playing with each other. They did co-exist on the court and won 3 titles but there wasn’t a synergy between them. Jordan and Pippen had it, especially on defense. Lebron, Wade, and Bosh figured it out during last year’s playoffs. The Spurs have always had excellent chemistry. Timmy D and Pop have been the center of it. No one has complained about Duncan, all his teammates love him. The same thing can’t be said about Shaq, Kobe, or even Jordan. Earlier this week I had a conversation about Duncan with my friend Brighton and I said, “Tim is the exact opposite type of player Dwight is.” He got mad at me for even mentioning Dwight and Tim in the same sentence and explained that Dwight didn’t deserve the praise and Duncan didn’t deserve to be pulled down to Dwight’s level. People who care about the NBA and basketball love Duncan – how could you hate him? He’s everything you’d want from a basketball player. Like it or not his career is winding down. Fifteen years after his first championship, he has a chance to claim another. He’ll bring the same moves in the post, will be there to calm his teammates down, elevate his team when needed, and anchor the defense. I will be watching, and cheering that he gets number five. Another day in the office for the most consistent superstar I’ve ever watched.
It’s Like I Have ESPN or Something – Nicole
Players cut from the same mold as Tim Duncan seem to be a fading entity. Maybe this mold is buried somewhere under the pile of dirt growing greedy agent pansies, incomprehensibly gigantic sponsorship daisies, and TMZ fly traps? Is it possible that individual player branding has plopped its heavy bum on top of this mold and settled in for a snooze? Perhaps the salary cap needed a snack and gobbled it up?
Ugh. Meanies. Wherever the Tim Duncan-Mario Lemieux mold is, we need it back. Like, right this second. Please.