Greatest of his Generation: The Tim Duncan Era
Tim Duncan, the greatest player of his generation retired from the NBA quietly on Monday morning, a move which sums him up perfectly. Duncan will retire after 19 seasons in the NBA, all of which were in San Antonio. 19 seasons in one place is remarkable as it’s something that rarely happens anymore, for a wide ranging variety of reasons. We all kind of had a sneaky suspicion that Duncan would retire in this fashion because it didn’t seem like he would be the type to bask in a farewell tour. And no, I am not begrudging Kobe Bryant, Derek Jeter or David Ortiz for going about it in the fashion they did. They are all time greats and they have more than earned the right to go out however the hell they want.
We probably won’t remember Duncan’s final game the same way we remember Kobe Bryant’s. For one, Kobe scored 60 points and went nuclear in the final three minutes of the fourth quarter. For two, Duncan wasn’t spectacular and his line doesn’t jump off the page. He showed some of the things that made him a top ten player of all time, and he played rather well defensively. A lot of the things he did well on that particular night were of the intangible nature. Good box outs, good defensive positioning, good screens and things of that ilk were what made Duncan good on this night. He ended with 19 points, 5 rebounds and a block in 33 (played all 12 in the fourth) minutes as the Spurs finished off losing four straight to the Thunder to lose in the Western Conference Semifinals. The reason I’m even spending this much font on this game is to say that I’m glad he went out playing pretty well.
Duncan has been in the NBA since I was 12 years old. When he was in his third season, the Knicks were in the NBA Finals. That’s now you KNOW he’s been around for a long ass time. Since Duncan’s rookie year in 1997, he and Popovich combined for the most victories by a player/coach duo in NBA history with 1,001. For some perspective, the next best duo on that list is Karl Malone/Jerry Sloan who won 775. That’s a win total of 226 for those of you who aren’t so mathematically inclined. That’s like four seasons of wins for Duncan, who never oversaw a non 50 win team in seasons that went at least 82 games. Since 1997, the Spurs have won at least 50 games in every single non lockout shortened season. The Spurs overall regular season record since Duncan was drafted is 1,072-438, which is absolutely staggering. Duncan is the third player to ever be a part of 1,000 regular season victories (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Robert Parrish).
We say that we will never see another Duncan, and I don’t know if that’s true because we kind of throw that phrase around loosely. With that being said, he's a dying (already dead?) breed in the sense that he is the last player that played four years in college and became a superstar in the NBA. That's not a particular significant nugget but one I find to be pretty interesting nonetheless.
In his rookie year, he won ROY and was first-team ALL NBA. In his second season he led the Spurs to a title and won Finals MVP. He would go on to win four more titles and two more MVPs. Duncan finished his career averaging 19 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 3.0 APG, 2.2 BPG, 206.4 overall win shares(6th ever).
Tim Duncan is one of the best players this league has ever seen. I think all of us with any sense realize this but I do have one issue with Duncan’s career. He never got a shapeup. Ok, now that I got that terrible joke out of the way I’ll continue. How the fuck did Duncan never win DPOY? I realize a lot of the things Duncan did well defensively is stuff you can’t tangibly measure but there is a ton you can and he fuckin kicked ass at it.
95.6 Defensive rating (3rd EVER), 106.3 defensive win shares (2nd ever), 4.0 Defensive Box Plus/Minus (7th ever), and just for fun he had the league’s best defensive box plus/minus this past season. Do I think Duncan was the best defensive player in the league? Hell no. Do I think he was decidedly underappreciated for his efforts on that end because his point totals were low? Yes. Either way, Duncan not having a DPOY is one of the all-time NBA travesties. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Duncan is arguably the greatest defensive player to lace them up.
Now that I spent damn near 800 words discussing Duncan’s lengthy list of accomplishments, I’ll talk about what I personally remember the most about him and some of my favorite Duncan moments. I’ll always remember his unflappable, “medium” demeanor. Regardless of what the score was, the quarter or what may have been going on his life (I’ll touch on this a bit later), Duncan always remained even keeled.
He won a lot, and would do whatever it would take to win. Whether that called for him having to score 35, grab 20 rebounds, give back a little money to keep the band together, Duncan did whatever to help the Spurs sustain excellence.
Duncan was the epitome of consistency. From the minute he walked into the league to the minute he left, you knew exactly what you were getting whether it was between the lines or not. Regardless of the moving parts around him and the changes, Duncan remained as the main constant in SA for damn near two decades and that is remarkable. From his demeanor, his style of leadership, his numbers, his regular season and playoff performance to his defense, to the fact that Duncan ever thought he committed a foul, everything remained consistent. If forced to narrow it down, that is the one word I’d use to describe him. Knowing that I’ve watched him from the age of ten to now and that he will be gone means another piece of my childhood is gone. Seeing all these greats from various sports retire (Charles Woodson, Duncan, Calvin Johnson, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, etc.) makes me appreciate the ones we still have around. Once I realized that LeBron has gray hairs in his beard, this point was kind of driven home.
My five favorite Duncan moments... (It was DAMN hard narrowing this down to five).
This doesn’t have anything to do with his greatness and is damn sure not paying homage to him, but it’s impossible not to laugh at this. Joey Crawford is one of the greatest.
This one is great. Nothing about it is spectacular but the context makes it great for me. Tim Duncan is a career 17% three point shooter. Up until that point of the season, he made ZERO three pointers. Even with that, Gregg Popovich, with his team down three in overtime, drew up a play for him to get a three. And I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think for a second that he’d miss it. This was one of the many great playoff moments for Mr. Duncan.
I’m not going to just focus on Duncan’s ridiculous shot. The last two minutes of this game was insane. High drama, close calls, and two ridiculous shots to close the game out made a rather ugly game a classic. It’s kind of crazy for Duncan that two moments that should’ve gone down in history as legendary positives for him were overshadowed by all-time great shots by the other team. He had 30 and 17 in game 6 of the 2013 Finals as a 37 year old, and Ray Allen made that moot. And he made what looked like a legendary game winner, which Derek Fisher made moot. Either way, it was an insane shot and one of my favorite memories of Duncan. And it led to one of my favorite sports quotes as Shaq, when asked about it after the game said, “One lucky shot deserves another.”
2. 2014 Season (no video)
Tim Duncan missed a bunny layup in the closing minutes of game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals that would have tied the game. The Spurs blew a 3-2 lead and were the victim of Ray Allen’s clutch histrionics in game 6. It was one of the more gut wrenching championship losses I can remember regardless of sport. Oh and Duncan was going through a rather ugly divorce at the time so he lost his wife AND lost the NBA Finals in excruciating fashion. Tim Duncan came back in the 2014 season with an afro, a respectable shape up by his standards, a fine ass younger girlfriend, and a ring as the Spurs pounded the Miami Heat into #Bolivian (shout out to Mike Tyson). That’s one of the all-time great turnarounds.
21 points 20 rebounds 10 assists 8 blocks. How’s that for a damn closeout performance? His averages for the series, you ask? Tim Duncan’s averages for the series 24 PPG 17 RPG 5 APG and 5 BPG(!!!). As much as I hated what he was doing at the time because I wanted Jason Kidd to get his first ring, this was one of the greatest Finals performances I’ve ever seen. And a 21/20/10/8 line to close out the series is why Tim Duncan is Tim Duncan. As hard as I was rooting for Jason Kidd, I couldn’t even be “upset” that Duncan did this. I just had to admire what he was doing and hope Kidd would get his somewhere down the road, which he did.
Kevin Garnett is the last player from the 1997 draft class who’s still in the NBA. Goodbye to the greatest player of his generation and top ten player to ever play this game. Duncan will be remembered for a lot of good things basketball wise, but the fact that he helped build an empire so strong that it’s still going strong as he embarks on retirement is probably the best thing. Tim Duncan, you will be missed. Thank you for all the joys you brought me playing this beautiful game of basketball.