Less than a week ago, I wrote about Kevin Durant’s decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you missed the blog, my position rested on the idea that I felt the spirit of competition had been lost. Durant has earned the right to move from the small market of Oklahoma City to any team he wishes. He surely played peak basketball for the Thunder for nine glorious years — giving, in my estimation, 100% every night.
However, there is something deeply admirable about staying put with one team. The logistics of doing that, compounded with the business of professional sports, makes that task a hard one to do. Yet, a career-long face imprinted on a professional sports brand means that athlete becomes adored. Cal Ripkin Jr., did it with the Baltimore Orioles, as did Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins. Kobe Bryant achieved such with Los Angeles Lakers.
And so did Tim Duncan.
Yesterday, one of the greatest players ever, Tim Duncan, in his typically understated fashion, retired from the game of basketball.
There wasn’t a farewell tour for Duncan as there was for Kobe this season (which Kobe rightfully earned). No hoopla or leading coverage was had. Nope, it was just a class-act player calling it quits with the team he played every minute for: The San Antonio Spurs. Tim Duncan retired in the only way he knew how — quietly.
Pause a minute and consider what Duncan did on the hardwood:
- Five NBA championships
- Two NBA MVP awards
- Three NBA Finals MVP awards
- NBA Rookie of the Year
- 15 All-Star selections
- 26,496 total points (14th on the all-time list)
These are just a smidgeon of his career stats. Stats that show a career of being a man among boys (albeit, talented boys).
What made Tim Duncan stand out.
Coming full-circle, what I appreciate most about Duncan was his unwavering spirt and determination to win the five times championships in the small market of San Antonio. (If you’re reading Durant, you can win anywhere.) That is Duncan’s masterpiece and what has him etched with the pantheon of greats.
For people who have only seen Duncan in last half of his career, let me tell you also what an athletic marvel he was when he was young. The former Wake Forest star was actually a competitive swimmer before picking up basketball. When he played college basketball and later in the NBA, he has as agile as a 6-11 man could be, with a sweet stroke and an intelligent grasp of the game. They didn’t call him the Big Fundamental for nothing.
I know this for a fact. When I think back on San Antonio Spurs basketball later on in life, I’ll always think of Tim Duncan. I’ll remember his sheer dominance and grace on the court, his zen-like presence and brilliant level of achievement.
For all this, I wish to say thank you, Tim. The NBA is now a far lesser place without you.