After 19 sea-sons, the greatest power forward of all-time Tim Duncan announced his retirement. The news, while expected for some time, was considered a great blow to basketball since Duncan is a dy-ing breed, a supreme competitor who never showed emotion, kept his private life quiet, exuded a muted professionalism, and led his team by example on and off the court.
Duncan’s impressive 19-year career was highlighted by five championship rings, two Most Valuable Player Awards, three Finals MVP Awards, 13 All-NBA Defensive Team, and 15 time NBA All-Star selec-tions. He was also the Rookie of the Year in 1998. He ends his career with averages of nearly 20 points, about 11 rebounds, and 2.2 blocked shots per game over 1,392 regular season games. His excellence was such that since his entry, the Spurs never the missed the playoffs and were contenders all throughout that extensive span of time. Excluding the lockout shortened 1998-99 season, the Spurs won at least 50 games during Duncan’s era including 5 60-win seasons.
Duncan is the primary reason why the Spurs – despite being one of the smallest markets in the NBA – is the franchise that the rest of the league tries to emulate. The character first Spurs and their famous “everyone touches the ball” offense made them a consistent and silent contender. Consistent be-cause they have been the winningest major professional franchise for nearly two decades. Silent be-cause they do it without much fanfare and drama. Duncan’s greatness goes beyond the fundamental purity of how he played the game.
His greatness can be traced back to his humility, loyalty, selflessness, and was a leader who led by do-ing. Every player who donned the Spurs jersey could attest to this. A teammate even quipped, “Unlike other superstars, Tim would allow himself to be coached despite being at the back end of Coach Po-povich’s famous tirades. When your star allows that, the rest of the team follows.” Other stars were and are still larger than life, outspoken, demonstrative, and sometimes downright cocky. Duncan was the rare superstar who is exactly the opposite.
In the past few years, Duncan has even taken a pay cut to accommodate rising stars namely Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. His selflessness has put the Spurs in a good position to contend in the next several years.
A big part of his success and the Spurs’ is his relationship with Coach Gregg “Pop” Popovich who has been his mentor since he was a rookie. Their partnership is the bedrock of this franchise’s foundation. The two were made for each other. It was a symbiotic partnership because Duncan allowed Pop to coach him hard and treat like the rest of the team. By giving Pop the freedom to coach, Duncan al-lowed his coach to be respected and grow, becoming one of the greatest coaches ever. In return, Pop gave Duncan and the rest of the team tools that put them in a position to win and win most of the time.
We will never see another Tim Duncan. The rest of the league’s superstars care for their game as much as their Twitter feeds. They love the limelight and the attention. And they think that basketball is a big business, always following the dollars. Duncan never really cared about all these. He just care cared about winning and winning the right way.