Yesterday, the legendary Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the NBA. He’s played the last nineteen seasons for the San Antonio Spurs, winning five championships, two MVP awards and playing in fifteen All Star Games. He’s played with everyone from David Robinson, Chuck Person, even the likes of Brad Lohaus, to Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the newest generation of Spurs, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. He won championships in three different decades, winning his first in 1999, and his most recent in 2014. Never amongst the most flashy characters in the league, Duncan was one of the most reliable players of my lifetime, earning his nickname, The Big Fundamental.
The Spurs were already a fine organization before Duncan hit the scene, averaging 54.7 wins a season between 1990-1996, but they didn’t become the iconic franchise we know them as today, synonymous with success, until they added Duncan to the squad. Normally, perennial 50-win teams don’t get to add a surefire rookie like Duncan, but in the 1996-97 season, their best player, David Robinson, played in just six games due to injuries. Without Robinson, himself one of the best big men to ever play the game, the Spurs struggled to a 20-62 record, and won the Draft Lottery. They happily added Duncan, teaming him up with a now healthy Robinson, and the lowest winning percentage they’ve had in a season since then has been .610, when they went 50-32 in the 2009-10 season. Needless to say, they made the right choice.
In just his second season, Tim Duncan and the Spurs won their first championship, defeating the New York Knicks, 78-77 in Game 5 of the Finals. While the final score was reminiscent of the George Mikan era, Tim Duncan became a modern star, submitting 31 points and 9 rebounds in the Finals clinching game, and was named Finals MVP. From then on, the Spurs have been a model of NBA success, with Duncan leading the way.
In 2003, he won his second championship, coming up with a performance for the ages in Game 6, springing for 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and 8 blocks, nearly fucking around and getting a quadruple-double. In a Finals clinching game, nonetheless. His Spurs would win 88-77 in what would be David Robinson’s final game. More championships would come in 2005 and 2007, with Duncan teaming with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and coach Gregg Popovich to create the NBA’s first small market dynasty since the old Minneapolis Lakers, and to be fair, every market outside of New York was small back then. To this point in his career, Duncan averaged 21.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.
Over the course of the second half of his career, Duncan adjusted to age better than most, remaining an All-Star level of play while subtly becoming less and less of a focal point with each passing year, and the Spurs remained Finals competitors, breaking through for one more title in 2014, seven years after Duncan’s fourth championship. While no longer a 20-10 player, Duncan was still an important and steady player, right up until this, his final season.
Without a doubt, Tim Duncan is one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA, and you can pencil him as the league’s greatest Power Forward. He’s the face of the Spurs franchise in the same way Bill Russell is for the Celtics, or Michael Jordan is for the Bulls. His approach to the game and quiet demeanor is reflected throughout the entire Spurs organization as if they modeled themselves after him. It doesn’t get much more legendary than that.
It’s been a privilege watching Tim Duncan play basketball from the moment he first hit the scene back when I was in fifth grade, right up until his final NBA moments during this year’s Playoffs. For a player that was never flashy or flamboyant, I’ll certainly never forget watching him play. The way he’d post up opponents on the block, those bank shots of his, his calm presence on the court, it’s all etched into my memory.
With all of this in mind, and despite the fact I’ve never met him, nor will he ever read this, I’d like to say thank you and farewell to Tim Duncan. I’m not even a Spurs fan, in fact, it was quite disappointing when my Celtics lost out on the Draft Lottery in which he was the prize. None of that matters. If you’re a fan of the game of basketball, you owe a debt of gratitude to Duncan. Along with Kobe Bryant, who also retired at the end of this past season, Duncan’s the first NBA legend that I can say I’ve watched their whole career, from beginning to end. So, once again, thank you, Tim. It’s been a pleasure.