On Monday afternoon, Tim Duncan finally announced his retirement from the San Antonio Spurs. After 19 great years, the big power forward out of Wake Forest decided to start the next chapter of his life.
Tim Duncan’s on court performance makes him the best power forward and one of the best players in the history of the NBA. Duncan was drafted with the number one overall selection in the 1997 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were blessed with the opportunity to draft Duncan because of an injury to David Robinson. Even though Duncan could have left after averaging 17 points and 13 rebounds during his sophomore year in order to better himself, he committed to the school and stayed two more seasons and eventually won the John R Naismath Award during his senior season. During his rookie year, Timmy won the Rookie of the Year Award by averaging 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game while leading the Spurs to 56 wins. After a remarkable rookie season, Duncan took a step forward and led the Spurs to their first title in franchise history. Even though he played alongside Hall of Famer, David Robinson, Duncan won the Finals MVP Award by averaging 27 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game against the New York Knicks.
Over the next three seasons, Duncan and the Spurs continued to win over 50 games per season, but fell to O’Neal and Bryant’s great Lakers teams of the early 2000s. During the 2001-2002 season, Duncan won his first MVP Award by averaging 25.5 points, 13 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game. Even though Duncan could not overcome the Lakers, he averaged a mere 28 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 blocks per game. The following season, Duncan took another step forward and won his second consecutive NBA MVP Award. Unlike the previous seasons, Duncan was able to defeat O’Neal and Bryant and led his team to his second title and Finals MVP. Over the next four seasons, Duncan would win two more titles, a Finals MVP, and maintained a level of excellence by averaging over 20 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game.
After his fourth Finals victory at age 30, Duncan began to evolve his game and realized that it would be in the team’s best interest if he sacrificed his minutes and statistics for the betterment of the team. Duncan would never again average more than 20 points nor 35 minutes per game in a season. Duncan would frequently defer to his teammates such as Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Even though Duncan’s offense took a step back, he would continue to play incredible defense and was voted to five more All-NBA Defensive and remained one of the best defenders in the entire league. No player in league history has been selected to more All-NBA Defensive Teams than Tim Duncan, 15. The decline of the San Antonio Spurs was caused by the decline of Tim Duncan, even though they continued to win over 50 games per season. After their victory in 2007, the Spurs would not return to the Finals until 2013. Even though Duncan’s team ultimately fell to the younger and talented Heat, he averaged 19 points and 12 rebounds at age 36 while shooting 49% from the field. Duncan used the defeat to motivate himself and his teammates for the following season. The San Antonio Spurs achieved revenge and defeated the same Cavaliers team to help Duncan win his fifth title. During his career, he was the epitome of a winner by winning over 1,000 NBA regular season games and winning the second most playoff games in NBA history.
Duncan’s ability to play at a high level and enable his team to become a model for consistency places him as the best player in between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. The two players that rival Duncan in terms of success and talent is Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant. In terms of championships, O’Neal has four, while Bryant is tied five championships. O’Neal and Bryant’s success does not rate as impressive as Duncan because Duncan never played with the same caliber of player. Duncan was able to win championships alongside very good players, but no great players. During Duncan’s first championship, he was the leader of the team and Robinson was merely a side piece due to his age and past injuries. In addition, Ginobili and Parker are very good players and will be future Hall of Famers. However, they were second round picks and developed because of Duncan and Popovich’s coaching and motivation. Unlike O’Neal, Duncan never left his team in the small market, although he flirted with the idea of leaving San Antonio for Orlando. In addition, Kobe has not experienced the same consistent success as Duncan. After the departure of O’Neal and Gasol, Bryant’s Lakers played for numerous Lakers’ teams that did not even make the playoffs. Duncan’s easy nature and ability to play alongside any type of player allowed the Spurs to win over 50 games during every full season of his career. Although Duncan did not have the same peak as the Los Angeles duo, Duncan was able to maintain his success on both sides of the court for the entirety of his career. Even during his 19th and final season in San Antonio, Duncan was rated as one of the best defenders in the league by many different metrics.
Although Tim Duncan will be remembered for his incredible play on the court, his demeanor, leadership, sacrifice, and work ethic has affected the entire NBA. As mentioned earlier, Tim will be remembered for his play, but who will ever forget his stare at officials, his arm rapped around his teammates, or his ability to win or lose with grace.While other stars would scream and try to make the game more about the team than themselves, Duncan’s actions would never overshadow the importance of the team. During wins he would acknowledge the accomplishments of teammates and coaches, while accepting blame and motivating his teammates to improve during his losses. Although superstar players in today’s NBA will take a me first approach and play for multiple teams and coaches, Duncan played for one team and one coach throughout his 19 year career. Duncan is the first player in NBA history to stay with a small market team throughout his career and lead them to multiple NBA titles. In addition, Duncan has instilled a culture in San Antonio, which has allowed them to attract big time free agents to a small market.
While many leaders, such as Kobe and Michael, displayed leadership by vocally communicating with their teammates on the floor, Duncan quietly motivated his teammates through his actions and behind the scenes comments. Duncan’s most important leadership quality was his drive to win and ability to accept criticism and coaching. Whether it was Popovich, assistant coaches, or his peers, Duncan would value their input and incorporate their recommendations into his game. When his teammates noticed that Duncan was willing to accept Popovich’s comments and occassional verbal insults, they had no other option, but to listen to coach because their leader was willing to do the same. In addition to his willingness to improve, his determination to enter the gym early and stay late allowed him to improve different levels of his game later in his career. Even though Duncan lost his athleticism during the twilight of his career, he was able to be effective on the offensive side of the ball by improving his range and passing ability.
It is unlikely that we will ever see a player such as Duncan due to the entitlement and luxuries that many of today’s stars are offered by the owners. In addition, Duncan’s willingness to remain in a small market and win championships without requiring super teams displays the team’s and his greatness. The Big Fundamental may not have been anyone’s favorite player outside of San Antonio, but every fan will reminisce and miss seeing number 21 on the court.