UNCASVILLE, Conn. – It’s official. Spurs legend Tim Duncan is now a Hall of Famer.
As a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2020 alongside contemporary giants like Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant, Duncan stepped into the spotlight one final time on Saturday evening to be enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Fellow Hall of Famer and Spurs great David Robinson welcomed Duncan into the Hall, and longtime teammate Tony Parker presented him with his Hall of Fame jacket and ring. Although known for his soft-spoken demeanor, Duncan didn’t shy away from the moment, delivering an emotional, 12-minute speech that touched on his youth in the Virgin Islands and expressed gratitude for the friends and family he has made throughout a remarkable 19-year NBA career.
The “Big Fundamental” was the centerpiece to a Spurs dynasty that brought five NBA Championships to San Antonio, so it’s only fitting to recap the five most memorable moments from his Hall of Fame speech.
5. Wake Forest takes a chance
“Wake Forest... How’d I get there?”
Great question, Tim! The answer was just as interesting as you might expect. Fellow Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning had made his way to the Virgin Islands along with a group of other professional basketball players to play in a pick-up game. Duncan’s friends invited him to compete, and he garnered a lot of attention from a Wake Forest alum that was on hand.
“He called his coach and said, ‘Hey, you might want to take a look at this kid,’” Duncan recalled. “Coach [Dave] Odom comes down and said he wants to see me play. I played in a pick-up game, and I have no idea how I played, but I played well enough that he offered me a scholarship. He saw something in me. He took a chance on this kid from the islands. Thank you Coach O, thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself at the time.”
Four years later, Duncan was a two-time ACC Player of the Year, was the all-time leading shot-blocker in ACC history and was awarded the John Wooden Award in 1997, given to the NCAA’s best overall male player.
4. Honoring his parents’ impact
“I didn’t pick up a ball until I was 14 years old. I was a swimmer, and I was happy being a swimmer.”
Throughout his illustrious career, Duncan has never forgotten his roots. Despite growing up in Saint Croix, Virgin Islands with dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer like his sister, he eventually changed his passion to the basketball court. His parents, William and Ione, never stopped encouraging him and instilling the proper work ethic needed to be the best... even if they didn’t know anything about his new sport.
“A combined zero basketball knowledge,” Duncan remarked. “But they taught me more about the game than anyone else. The mantra that my mom instilled in me, ‘Good, better, best. Never let it rest. ‘Til your good is better, and your better is best...’ They told me and made me have pride in everything I did, be the best in everything that I did. Be happy with where your role is, or where you are, and try to be the best at that. I’m here because of them.”
3. “Teachings” from David Robinson
As the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, Duncan entered a Spurs team that was already led by an all-time great: David “The Admiral” Robinson. Duncan blossomed quickly, and the two became the bedrock of San Antonio’s culture, combining to bring home the franchise’s first title in 1999. Many thought Robinson had taken the young star out of Wake Forest under his wing and had given him personal tips. With a wry smile, Duncan addressed Robinson on stage and dispelled those rumors.
“I don’t remember one thing that you sat down and talked about specifically,” Duncan said. “What you did was be a consummate pro. He was an incredible father, an incredible person. He showed me how to be a good teammate, a great person to the community, all of those things. Not by sitting there and telling me how to do it, but just by being that.”
2. Appreciating Manu and Tony
Duncan might have established himself as a force in the NBA thanks to Robinson’s example, but he became an icon while playing alongside legendary Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Colloquially referred to as San Antonio’s “Big Three,” Tim, Tony and Manu terrorized opposing teams throughout the 2000s and won four NBA Championships. Their bond was as strong off the court as it was on it, and Duncan made sure to recognize their impact on his career.
“To look to your left and look to your right and have the same guys there year in, year out is unbelievable. It’s a blessing beyond what I can put into words,” Duncan said. “Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker... I can’t wait to see you guys up here and for me not to be up here. It was an honor sharing the court with you guys. Thank you for everything. Thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your brotherhood. Thank you for all the experiences that we shared on that court. Thank you.”
1. Thanking Coach Pop
“I don’t want to talk about him! He’s going to get mad at me if I talk about him. Sorry, Pop.”
Everyone in the audience and watching at home knew Duncan would have to address Gregg Popovich. With the current iteration of the Spurs already locked in as the 10th seed in this year’s play-in tournament, Pop made the trip to Connecticut, to be a part of the ceremonies. The two forged an unbreakable relationship on and off the court, each leaving their own indelible mark on the other as the key figures in all five of San Antonio’s NBA titles. Duncan had to acknowledge that Pop wouldn’t like the attention, but honored their bond with a stirring tribute that reflected on how it began.
“The standard you set... you showed up after I got drafted. You came to my island. You sat with my friends and my family. You talked with my dad. I thought that was normal. It’s not,” Duncan stated. “You are an exceptional person. Thank you for teaching me about basketball, but even beyond that, teaching me that it’s not all about basketball. It’s about what’s happening in the world, about your family. Just, for everything, thank you for being the amazing human being that you are.”