Tim Duncan is arguably the best Power Forward of All-time in the NBA, and probably the best and most successful player of his generation, but throughout his career, the San Antonio Spurs' big man is often under-appreciated by fans and even by experts.
Chris Ballard of the SIVault.com, gave us 21 reasons why we should fall for Duncan.
1. The Same Old Story
To see one Tim Duncan game is to have seen them all. You will be treated to a fusillade of bank shots, all fired with the same high, mechanical release. There will also be jump hooks, excellent post defense, effortless dissection of double teams and precise outlet passes in the mold of Walton and Unseld. The same craggy, white-haired coach will pace the sideline, frowning the same disapproving frown. Throughout, Duncan's expression will run the gamut from stone-faced to indifferent.
On a spring night in Oakland near the end of the regular season, Duncan scored an impressive 13 points in 11 minutes against the Warriors. Even so, there were no oohs, aahs or even boos from the Warriors crowd. During player intros Duncan received the kind of polite applause you might hear at the end of a poetry reading. He could have been any opponent.
It's a bit shocking, of course. Duncan is arguably the greatest basketball player of his generation, inarguably its most successful. Yet compared with his peers, he remains practically anonymous.
How can this be?
2. The Silence
"I have to warn you that I have a headache," Tim Duncan is saying in the lobby of a Denver Marriott. There is also the issue of time, he adds. The team flight was delayed getting in. Ice on the runway. Everyone's tired.
Plus, Tim's an island guy, and it's cold as balls in here.
Duncan stares down at me with his wide, flat face. Maybe we could just scrap the interview, the face says. Anyone who interviewed Duncan knows the drill: He talks only after games or practices, and then only for a few minutes and in tiny bursts of spectacular blandness. He is a man who has achieved so much yet continues to flee from the very thing so many others chase with a white-hot desperation: fame. Year after year Duncan has turned down interviews and endorsements that could have netted him millions. He hasn't feuded with teammates, used the media as a back channel to tweak his G.M. or forced out a coach.
In this case both Spurs p.r. man Tom James and an assistant coach had to vouch for me. Then James had to wait until the time was right to bring up the idea of an interview—on the road, when Tim would have an off day he couldn't spend with his wife, Amy, and their two children, which Tim prefers to do 100 times out of 100 during the season. Even then, it was unclear how much time, if any, Duncan would grant. He has a reputation to uphold, after all.
3. No Second Act
This is problematic because who doesn't love a narrative about redemption and vindication? But Duncan? To recap: Tall, talented young man succeeds for four years in college, goes to NBA, succeeds immediately, then continues to do so for the next 15 years. Here are the numbers.
13: Consecutive seasons to begin his career in which Duncan was named All-NBA and All-Defensive team, six more than anyone else in league history.
.702: The Spurs' winning percentage during the Duncan era, the best 15-year run by any NBA team in history.
0: Number of teams in the four major pro sports with a better winning percentage over the last 15 years than the Spurs.
It happens almost every game now, including in these playoffs, during which the top-seeded Spurs blew through the first round in four games against the Jazz: Some opposing big man throws his weight into Duncan's 36-year-old back, digs out position and then asks the question, How many more years ya got in ya?
Each night, Duncan says the same thing: "I got at least one more game."
It's worse when the young guys guard him. "Hey, I grew up watching you," they'll say, and Duncan will try to ignore the implication. He understands how this works. "Your mortality as a player is not known," he says. "You don't see the end coming."
Even his coach gets into the act. Earlier this season, when Gregg Popovich held Duncan out of a game, he gave the reason as DNP—OLD.
Not surprisingly, Duncan's numbers dipped during the regular season; he averaged 15.4 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. However, inspect his production per 36 minutes—starter's minutes. Those figures rise to 19.7 points and 11.5 rebounds. Or almost exactly his career averages.
Watch him this week, as the Spurs begin their second-round series against the Clippers, and you'll note that he's moving better than he has in a while, that he looks fitter and that he appears rejuvenated by both the lack of double teams and the relative youth of his teammates. (San Antonio's average age, 26.9, is the lowest of the Duncan era.) Says Duncan, "It's the best I've felt in years."
5. His Buddy KG
Just kidding, as this might count in his favor. In fact, Duncan hates Kevin Garnett. Hates him the way liberals hate Sean Hannity. This information comes from very reliable sources, who talk about how KG has made a career of trying to punk Duncan, baiting him and slapping him and whispering really weird smack into his ear. They talk about how funny this is, because the worst thing you can do as an opponent is piss off Duncan. Then, as Malik Rose says, "he f------ destroys you." Duncan's lifetime numbers versus Garnett's teams, by the way: 19.4 points per game, 11.6 boards and a 44--17 record, including the postseason.
Duncan is diplomatic about the topic. Asked if perhaps all those years battling Garnett have softened his feelings for the man, led to a Magic-Larry type of kinship, Duncan leans back on the couch in his hotel room and grins. There is a pause. A longer pause. Finally he says, "Define kinship."
Duncan ducks into the elevator in the Marriott. He will do the interview, in his hotel room no less (raised eyebrow, thumbs-up from James). Moments later a family of three enters the elevator: corporate husband, well-coiffed wife, teenage daughter. The door closes. Here's what the husband does not do. He does not do a double take, betray any recognition of Duncan or make a comment about the previous night's game or this year's postseason or that one time Tim Duncan did that amazing thing. The wife does not bat her eyes or squirm. The daughter does not think OMG! OMG! OMG! and start texting furiously. This is not LeBron or Kobe. Or even Melo.
The door opens, the family leaves without looking back. Duncan looks relieved.
7. An Unusual Love Story
The story of Duncan's career begins on an island, in the summer of 1997. That's when Popovich flew down to St. Croix to meet his team's No. 1 draft pick. On the first day, Duncan took his new coach swimming. Out they went, one man tall and assured, the other short and as pale as the sand, his arms churning furiously. Duncan led them past rocky outcroppings into deeper water, the shoreline of the island quickly receding. Popovich began to think about how far out they were, about what lay beneath, about the waves cresting off the rocks. Still, he kept going, determined not to show weakness.
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(Photo via ESPN/NBA)