On July 11, 2016, Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the NBA after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
In other words, Duncan saw that Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors and said, “What more do I have to prove? Thanks, but no thanks.”
Behind Duncan, the Spurs have “basically” won 50 games in all 19 of his seasons, depending on whether you count their 37-13 regular season record in the lockout-shortened 1999 season. The math adds out, so I am counting it.
In 1,392 career games, Duncan and the Spurs accumulated a .710 win percentage (1,001-391), which is the best win percentage of any NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB player over that 19-year span. On top of that, he won five championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, and three NBA Finals MVP awards.
There is no debate. Duncan is the most accomplished basketball player of the last 20 years.
Duncan Always Had a Level Head
While he was not one for showing much emotion, Duncan had that “dog” mentality and played very furiously on the court. Sure, he didn’t scream and yell like Kevin Garnett or pound his chest after a foul like LeBron James, but Duncan sure got in the face of the referees. I bet he believes that he never committed a single foul in his entire career.
Duncan was also thrown out of an NBA game for laughing on the bench, something that no NBA player has ever done.
Bless your heart, Joey Crawford.
Duncan Did Not Always Carry the Spurs
Duncan was fortunate to play with David Robinson, arguably the most underrated big man of all-time, for the first six years of his career. When Robinson came to San Antonio in 1989-1990, the Spurs made the playoffs in seven of their next eight seasons. However, “The Admiral” could never get San Antonio over the hump.
That is, until a back injury and broken foot limited Robinson to just six games in 1996-1997. As a result, the Spurs landed the No. 1 overall pick in 1997 NBA Draft.
The pick? Tim Duncan.
Duncan was the player who turned the Spurs into legitimate championship contenders. Sure, it took about two or three years for him to become a better player than Robinson, similar to Magic Johnson playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabaar early in his career. It’s also worth noting that NBA writers and broadcasters named Duncan to the All-NBA First team in his rookie season, something only eight other players have done. That’s also a testament to Robinson’s greatness, since he was the best player on the Spurs in 1997-1998.
Duncan Went Head-to-Head Karl Malone… As a Rookie!
April 8, 1998.
Within the first three minutes of the game, Karl Malone caught Robinson with an elbow to the head and knocked him out for the rest of the game. It also looked like he knocked him out cold as well.
The Spurs did lose the game, but that did not stop rookie Tim Duncan from putting up 34 points and seven rebounds.
This was the game when most people realized that Tim Duncan was an emerging NBA superstar.
Duncan’s Consistency Was Off the Charts
Just look at his “per 36 minutes” stats.
As he got older and the minutes decreased, Duncan’s productivity and impact never wavered. He led the league in defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) four times, including in 2013 when he was 36-years-old!
Duncan Has the Jaw-Dropping NBA Finals Performance
2003 NBA Finals. New Jersey Nets. Game 6.
Tim Duncan put up 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks in San Antonio’s 88-77 win.
You read that correctly.
Not to mention, outside of Duncan, the 2003 San Antonio Spurs were not that good. Tony Parker, a 20-year-old point guard who the Spurs were willing to trade for Jason Kidd, was the second-best player for the Spurs that season. Duncan put that team on his back.
Duncan Could Very Easily Have SEVEN Championship Rings
2004 Western Conference Semifinals. Los Angeles Lakers. Game 5.
With 5.4 seconds left, down one point, Tim Duncan hit one of the most incredible buzzer-beaters in NBA history.
Then Derek Fisher made an even more incredible buzzer beater.
If Derek Fisher did not make that shot with 0.4 seconds left, I believe that the Spurs would have won the championship. They would have beat Kevin Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals and beat the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.
So many things had to right for that buzzer-beater as well. Fisher had to shoot with his left hand, considering the sideline where the ball was being inbounded. In addition, the inbound pass was in a direction where only a left-handed shooter could fade to the baseline and make the basket. In other words, there is no way Kobe Bryant makes that shot.
2013 NBA Finals. Miami Heat. Game 6. Spurs Lead Series 3-2.
Up three points with 19.4 seconds remaining, Ray Allen hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history.
2013 NBA Finals. Miami Heat. Game 7.
Being guarded by the 6-foot-8 Shane Battier, the 6-foot-11 Duncan missed a wide-open layup to tie the game with less than a minute remaining.
Duncan was 19.8 seconds away from having more championships than Michael Jordan.
Is Duncan a Power Forward or Center?
This is a very important question, considering Duncan regularly moved back and forth between both positions.
When talking about great NBA big men, one must separate the “centers” from the “non-centers.” Before the NBA changed the illegal defense rules, there was a premium placed on centers who could get shots close to the basket. Prior to the 2001-2002 season, it took forever to double-team big men close to the basket due to the ban on zone defenses.
However, if you consider Duncan a “center,” he is one of the greatest centers of all-time. If you consider him a power forward, he is unquestionably the greatest power forward of all-time.
Duncan Probably Doesn’t Want Me Writing This Post
Answer this question… do you know what Tim Duncan’s voice sounds like?
Before writing this post, I didn’t either.
Duncan would probably prefer that no one ever speak of him or his career ever again. When the Spurs sent out his retirement statement, it didn’t even have a quote from him!
It would not shock me at all if he just called the Spurs that day and told them, “Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that I’m not coming to work anymore.”
Nineteen seasons. Five championships. One team.
There will never be another Tim Duncan.