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There are not many words that can explain what Tim Duncan means to the Spurs franchise and the city of San Antonio, but with his induction Saturday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, we’ll try and do justice to the greatest Spurs player of all-time. Welcome to this week’s KSAT.com Spurs newsletter.
“No Duncan. No Championships.” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said it best the other day when discussing Duncan’s impact on the franchise. The Spurs had been competitive throughout their history, but never reached the NBA mountaintop until Duncan arrived.
The Spurs won the franchise’s first championship in 1999, only two years after Duncan was selected No. 1 in the draft. Tim would go on to win four more titles with the Spurs over his illustrious career. The success of the Spurs during Duncan’s tenure was nearly unmatched. The Lakers are the only other NBA franchise to win as many championships (5) as Duncan did over his 19-year career. But what separates Tim was that San Antonio was competitive every year he played and never missed the playoffs in the his career.
And we know all about the resume and individual awards: two regular season and three NBA Finals MVP awards, a 15-time All-NBA and All-Star player, and the only player in league history to reach 1,000 career wins with one team.
But as much as he loved winning and competition, Duncan was as selfless as they came and a quiet assassin. His stoic demeanor rattled opponents because he never seemingly got rattled himself. Duncan never showboated and always had a team first mentality. He would be the first to say the Spurs success couldn’t have happened without his teammates like Tony, Manu, Bowen, Sean Elliott and the great David Robinson, who will present him into the hall on Saturday. But let’s be real, he was the core and the center of the Spurs universe. He put San Antonio on the national and international map.
Duncan retired after the 2016 playoffs without much fanfare, but it was emblematic of who he was: a player who never wanted to be in the spotlight, but shined bright on the biggest stages.
Tim Duncan is San Antonio. He’s the embodiment of the city and while San Antonio may never have the big market or big city feel that so many other NBA cities tout, it will always have Tim Duncan and that’s pretty damn good.
If you have any questions about this newsletter or want to reminisce about the GOAT (greatest of all time) power forward, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PLAYER SOUND OF THE WEEK: Who else, but Timmy talking about going into the Hall of Fame. He recently reflected on his career and the journey in San Antonio. He also thanked Spurs fans with a personal video. Check it out here.
COACH POP SOUND OF THE WEEK: Popovich gets emotional discussing Tim Duncan’s impact on the franchise. “We still toast him when we have dinner.” Pop and Tim are the winningest player-coach combo in NBA history. Here’s more from Pop.
ROUND BALL ROUNDTABLE: What’s your best or favorite Tim Duncan moment?
My most memorable moment is Tim Duncan’s career with the Spurs is the first time I met him. I had been at the lottery selection show in New Jersey and like the rest of the world was stunned when the Spurs won the first pick. I was seated in the studio when the announcement was made in Secaucus and I couldn’t believe it since the lottery favored the Boston Celtics. In fact, the Celtics were the first team to call the Spurs and ask for a trade for Tim just minutes after the program ended, which was politely declined.
I called my news director at the time, Jim Boyle, and asked if I could go for an interview with Tim at Wake Forest. He said go for it. I remember racing to the airport in Newark and was trying to find a flight close to where Wake Forest was located. Greensboro was as close as I could get. I landed and headed for Wake Forest in a rental car and then stopped at the local ABC affiliate to see if I could get a photographer to follow me.
Unfortunately they could not that night, but could help the next day. I arrived at Wake Forest late that evening and asked where I might find Tim. Students pointed me to the athletic dorm. There I sat until a car pulled up and out popped Tim with his family. They had been to dinner before his graduation the next day. I introduced myself and asked when it would be convenient for him to answer a few questions. He was very gracious and asked if he could do it in his coaches office after graduation.
The photographer met me at Tim’s graduation and apologized because he did not know what Tim looked like. I said no problem, when the student body stands to appear on stage, he’ll be the tallest. True to his word, Tim spoke to us. I would see him again later in San Antonio when he was introduced to Spurs fans in front of the Alamo.
I have several awesome memories from covering Tim at the NBA All-Star Game, where we often got to see a more playful and relaxed Duncan. But my all-time favorite moment was interviewing him inside the Spurs locker room after they won the 2014 championship.
The locker room was packed, and he worked his way up to me and photographer Mark Mendez and we got to interview him by ourselves for a good 90 seconds. We talked about the title, the journey and his kids. It was a cool moment indeed.
Hard to pick one shot or one moment. Let’s start with the overall journey. I was fortunate enough to go along for the ride from press row and inside the locker room from the time Tim arrived until he retired. What he did for this team and community will never be matched.
Watching him perform the bank shot was like watching NBA art. He was able to help David Robinson get two championships, which was special. He led a nucleus of players around him for most of his career, Tony and Manu, but he also had the uncanny ability to welcome so many different guys over his career into the fold and get them to buy in to what the Spurs team and franchise was all about. He was a leader with action instead of words.
If I had to pinpoint one moment that stands out, it was Game 6 of the 2014 West finals against OKC. The game went to overtime and Tim had no desire to come back home for a Game 7. He worked Serge Ibaka in the low post with a couple of typical Tim shots and he also got Ibaka to foul him twice. Duncan had seven of the Spurs 11 points in the OT, leading them to the 112-107 win. The victory put them in the finals for the second year in a row against Miami. They went on to beat the Heat for their fifth title.
Similar to David, I had the OT game versus OKC in 2014. Tim was not going to let the Spurs lose that game and even proclaimed afterward the Spurs would not lose to Miami again in the finals. Fast forward to Game 5 versus the Heat and the celebration on the court. ABC got a shot of Tim tearing up with his then two children. He’s since had another baby girl. But that was pretty emotional stuff and also on Father’s Day. You can still watch that great moment on YouTube.
MORE FUN DUNCAN MUSINGS: I wanted to share a few stories we’ve done on Duncan over the past year or so as we get ready for his enshrinement. First off, fans interested in celebrating Timmy still have a chance to do so at the AT&T Center for the next few days. Read more about that here.
Now to the debate over Duncan’s status as top five NBA player. For the record, I believe Duncan is a top five all-time NBA player behind Jordan, LeBron and Wilt Chamberlain. He’s fourth in my opinion with Kobe Bryant (RIP Mamba) a close fifth. Kobe, of course, will be enshrined in the same class as Tim on Saturday and it makes sense because they had so many legendary battles over the years. Check out these articles that debate Duncan as an all-time great.
Since he retired, Tim has actually done a bit more media, even some podcast appearances! Yes, Tim is doing some pods. We have that story below where he discussed several topics on a Ringer podcast, including his near move to Orlando. Let’s also relive when No. 21 went into the AT&T Center rafters.
And we can’t forget Tim’s contributions off the court to the San Antonio community and his native home in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Tim Duncan Foundation organized a massive relief effort for people on the islands after a pair of devastating hurricanes in 2017. He’s also been a longtime supporter of the San Antonio Food Bank.
The most interesting Spur in the world, or former Spurs player, is Manu Ginobili. What has Manu been up to? We’re switching things up a bit here. This week, the Spurs Twitter feed shared videos from Manu and Tony Parker talking about Tim going into the Hall of Fame. The Spurs “Big Three” are the winningest trio in NBA history. It was an unbelievable run and what makes it better, the three genuinely seem like life long friends. The jerseys of all three are in the AT&T Center rafters. Congrats Tim!
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