My generation will forever be defined by the conflict between Kobe and Tim Duncan. Now that both have retired, an era has come to an end. In the same way that the 80s were defined by the singular conflict between Magic and Bird, my generation will always be defined by Kobe and Timmy. Magic and Bird were two sides of the same coin. The gregarious Magic wanted to win, but he also wanted to attend the party after a win. Bird wanted to win because he wanted to destroy you. The late 90s and early 2000s were dominated by Kobe and Tim, the two fiercest competitors in the game. But both manifested themselves in opposite ways.
Kobe, for all his faults, is still a conventional NBA star. He has shoe deals. He does commercials. He does interviews. He gets the game. Tim never did any other that. I love Tim Duncan, and I really only know 1 thing about him: he loves basketball. Does he like music? Does he go to movies? Does he golf? What kind of food does he like? Will he spend his retirement in a quiet Texas home? Or will he coach? Will he move to another country and become a recluse? No one knows. Tim could be super into jazz, or the biggest NWA fan in the world. I have no idea. But as someone who has always cared about basketball to an unhealthy degree, I love that Tim is single minded.
Here are the words we commonly use to describe Tim Duncan: Quiet, stoic, and boring. But there’s nothing boring about 19 years of domination. He’s never missed the playoffs. Not once. He’s never played for another team, or another coach. He’s never given an interview where he criticizes a decision that Pop has made. He’s never come out after a game and gone after a rival teammate. All he’s done, is kick everyone’s ass on the court. Why? Because basketball is all that matters. Every coach, every fan, everyone who cares about basketball and roots for a team, wants their own Tim Duncan. They want a player who is a) completely and totally loyal to their franchise b) will always put the team above themselves, and c) will become (at worst) the second best player at his position. Oh yeah, it’d be great if that person could win 5 championships while he’s here.
And yet, Tim Duncan is often an afterthought. He is often criticized as being boring. He fulfills everything we ever want in a player and yet is often seen as an outsider. There are a million kids with Kobe jerseys running around, but only a few thousand in Duncan jerseys. He never became a true star because he never saw the point. The only thing that mattered was basketball. How does a shoe deal help you win titles? Would being in Ghostbusters commercials help the team in the playoffs? If it didn’t help his team directly, Tim Duncan never did it.
The thing he did, the thing he will always be remembered for, is maybe the hardest thing for an all time great player to do: he changed, even to his detriment. As soon as it became clear to the Spurs (and it became clear to the Spurs about a year before everyone else) which direction the league was headed (towards the perimeter, and 3 point shooting, and guard play) Tim shifted his game without so much as a word. He did it because he knew it would help the team, and that’s all that really mattered. Tim’s post up game went by the wayside, which is sort of like if Kareem put his sky hook on the shelf. He evolved as the game evolved. Which is why, as recently as the 2013-14 season, Tim was averaging 18.7/12 per 36 and posted a 24.4 PER in 2012-13. He posted his 2nd best Defensive BPM (5.0) THIS year! Do yourself a favor and spend 20 minutes on his basketball reference page. Someone could easily be as good as Duncan, but it would hard to imagine someone being as good, for as long as Duncan. Even as his body began to break down, and his offensive game deteriorated, Duncan found ways to help his team. He could have left for a paycheck, or to have a bigger role in the offense, but he stayed and evolved as the game and his body evolved. No one else has ever done that, not to the extent that Tim did.
This is a weird hypothetical, but go with me here: if Kobe had a gun, 1 bullet, and a get out of jail free card, he wouldn’t kill Tim. He’ll never admit this, but Kobe respects Tim, and Tim made him better. Hell, Tim made everyone better. Kobe would kill Shaq. Shaq emasculated Kobe, but beyond that, he was able to win without really caring, or putting his whole heart and soul into it. That’s something Kobe could never abide. Tim wanted it just as badly as Kobe, he just went about it a different way. That’s why these two players will always matter. Kobe dropped 60 points in his last game and went out with the kind of farewell tour that he was always going to have. Tim still hasn’t said a word. He left with nothing more than a press release. That’s all you need to know about these two players.
I don’t need to know more about Tim Duncan. I don’t need to know what music he listens to or who he votes for. It’s all there on the court. The only thing Tim ever really loved was basketball, and yes, that makes him a weirdo. But it also makes him the best kind of weirdo. He gave us everything we ever wanted in a basketball player, and maybe that makes him boring, or maybe it makes him the greatest. One thing is for sure, it’s a brave new world without Tim.
I miss you already big guy. Enjoy your retirement doing…whatever the hell you do.