Saying goodbye to an All Time Great
Yesterday on July 11, Tim Duncan announced his retirement in the most Tim Duncan way possible. Unlike farewell tours of Kobe Bryant or Derek Jeter, Duncan simply and quietly told the Spurs about his decision and slipped away. Spurs head coach Gregg Poppovich announced he would be holding a press conference on Tuesday to talk about the retirement. Reportedly, not only would Duncan not speak at the conference, he wouldn’t even be there at all.
For a man who doesn’t speak much, the numerous awards can only tell a part of the story. Over a whopping 19 seasons, Duncan won 5 NBA titles, 3 Finals MVPs, and 2 League MVPs. He was a 15 time All Star, 10 time All NBA First Team, and 8 time all NBA Defender First Team. He is considered the greatest power forward of all time, one of the best centers of all time, and is one of the top 5 to 10 player to ever play the game. These impressive accolades are just a handful of the awards he won, with another impressive stat being that he played his entire 19 year career under one coach, Gregg Popovich. That feat alone may never again be seen in professional sports.
Duncan played the game with a quiet, steely, precision. Perhaps his greatest feat of trash talk was to Etan Thomas, who had this to say on Duncan:
“We’re playing the Spurs and I get the ball. I sweep to the middle for my jump hook and he blocks it. As we are running down the court he says “that was a good move but you have to get more into my body so you can either draw the foul or I can’t block it”. I didn’t know if he was talking noise or what so just kind of looked at him confused and said ok. Then, a few plays later I did it again got more into his body and he couldn’t block it. I missed the shot and he looked at me and said much better and kept going.”
His most famous move, the turnaround bank shot, is perhaps the least flashy signature move of any all time great. He won titles in three decades, succeeding in the iso/hero ball era, the seven seconds or less era, and the pace and space era. He has enjoyed working with hall of fame players in Robinson, Parker, and Ginobli (And probably Leonard and Aldridge someday too) as well as forgettable players (Andrew Gaze, Danny Ferry). But through it all, Duncan has remained the fulcrum on offense, playing in a dominant big man league where the Spurs were “Boring” in the 90s and 2000s to becoming a key player in their beautiful motion based offense of the 2010’s.
Duncan really elevated himself on the defensive end. Throughout his career, including the final few seasons, Duncan was the best or second best player on the defensive side of the ball based on advanced statistics. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Duncan was how good he was in his final seasons, still being one of the best defensive players on his team. That is very rare for older NBA players, who naturally lose a step, let alone older NBA big men. While father time is undefeated, it seemed Duncan could play forever.
It will be strange not seeing him and Kobe Bryant playing next year. These two have been stars and winners in the league for nearly two decades, but while Kobe was brash, outspoken, and king of endorsements, Duncan was quite, methodical, and efficient. We will likely never see a player so poised as Duncan again.