The National Basketball Association is Doctor J in short shorts, high socks, and taking flight towards the rim while rocking the basketball like a child before slamming it down. It’s Michael Jordan telling Mutombo to “watch this” before he shoots a free throw with his eyes closed. And now, in the era where the three pointer rules all, it is Steph Curry shooting and immediately turning around because he damn well knows that it’s going in. Style, confidence, and a large dose of ego is always what made most NBA superstars fun to watch.
But what about Tim Duncan?
Does a guy whose nickname, “The Big Fundamental” really give off that flashy style or reputation of supreme dominance in the league?
No, not really.
But it is fitting to his game.
A long-armed power forward whose use of the backboard on offense made it inevitable that any time a scrub at a pick-up game makes a bank shot he would immediately shout out “Duncan!”
Every year, it felt like Tim Duncan and the Spurs were overlooked despite being one of the winningest franchises over the past 20 years.
No hype. No excitement. And that is the way the Spurs franchise and Duncan as an NBA player carried themselves.
He is without question the best power forward in the history of the league. A five-time NBA Champion, three-time Finals MVP, two-time NBA MVP, and Rookie of the Year.
Though growing up you never saw him on big ad campaigns or dominating the top ten highlight real on ESPN. And maybe that is what led most of the casual NBA fans to think he wasn’t cool or on the same level of other superstars.
For nineteen years we have been selling Tim Duncan’s appeal short…
First off, has there ever been a greater origin story than that of Timothy Theodore Duncan? Yes, his middle name is actually Theodore.
Duncan’s main sport was swimming while growing up in the Virgin Islands. It was only after Hurricane Hugo destroyed the lone Olympic-sized pool on the island that he turned his attention and efforts to basketball. Yes, an act of God created the pathway for the NBA to be graced with the talents of Tim. That is a mythological Greek God type beginning to a basketball career. Not even the writers at Marvel could fumble upon a plot line like that.
After entering the league in 1997, Duncan not only won the Rookie of the Year award averaging close to 21-12-3, but more importantly, he saved Gregg Popovich’s coaching career. Helping to ensure Pop wasn’t canned and replaced by then broadcaster Doc Rivers has to score him some cool points, doesn’t it?
Can you imagine a world without Popovich giving comically short worded and smart-ass type answers during sideline reports? Popovich is also widely regarded as the league’s best coach and has forever put his stamp on the game. Look closely enough and you will find plenty of teams trying to duplicate the model the Spurs have put forward.
Though having an amazing origin story and ensuring Popovich’s longevity doesn’t really cement his coolness. But do you know what’s cool? Winning. And boy did Tim Duncan know how to win.
Since Duncan was drafted by the Spurs there has only been one season where they didn’t reach at least 50 wins during the regular season. That “asterisk” of a season was during the lockout year of 1998-99 when there were only 50 games played -not to mention, they would go on to win the NBA Finals that year with Duncan being awarded the Finals MVP.
He was selected for 10 All-NBA first teams and made 15 All-Star appearances throughout his 19-year career. Beyond the individual accolades, Duncan’s greatest accomplishments was his leadership and unselfishness. How many franchise players truly allow themselves to be disciplined and yelled at by their coach the same way a role player would be treated? By doing this, he set the standard for how you played when you are a part of the Spurs organization. Which led to absolutely beautiful basketball.
Whether it was a slow half-court gritty approach to scoring or an offense of pace and constant ball movement and off-ball screens, Timmy D rolled with it and embraced the changes through the years. And that type of culture can only be allowed when your greatest player is committed to that philosophy. And that is what Duncan did, he established a culture where team basketball was cool in the NBA again.
The narrative about Duncan suggested that he was “boring.”
How could that be?
Did we as fans become numb to the consistent success of the Spurs throughout the years? Was it too predictable that they would always be title contenders and became an uninteresting story to write?
If you’re truly a fan of the NBA and great basketball, you would never describe Spurs basketball as boring. Though somehow, Duncan and his personality got lost in this perception. There are plenty of anecdotal stories on his sarcastic and witty comments back and forth with Popovich on the court through the years. Videos of him occasionally throwing basketballs at the back of the local broadcasters heads during lay-up lines. And countless times of Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili trying to pull pranks on each other on the bench.
Yes, he was a private person in regards to his personal life. But Duncan didn’t seek out nor hide away from interviews. He just didn’t place it as a priority or an emphasis to his career as a basketball player. He simply played the game he loved, had fun, and became a legend along the way. And there is nothing boring about that.