Few can match the resume that Tim Duncan has constructed, and the 19-year NBA vet announced his retirement on Monday.
While it’s not exactly shocking, Duncan’s ambiguity had some believing that he’d return for the 2016-17 season. Even though he isn’t, he’s done enough to cement himself as the all-time greatest power forward, and one of the best players ever. When he was drafted first overall out of Wake Forest in 1997, I’m not sure how many people predicted that Duncan would finish his career as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but his career certainly looked promising.
He was named an All-Star as a rookie, and led the Spurs to a 36-win turnaround from the year before. Duncan shot nearly 55 percent from the field, averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 boards, and 2.5 blocks for the 56-win Spurs. It’s a no-brainer, but Duncan earned Rookie of the Year that season and his first All-NBA team appearance. His first championship was captured the following year when San Antonio beat the Knicks in five games in the 1999 NBA Finals. Duncan secured his first Finals MVP by averaging 27.4 points, 14 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks during the series.
Duncan’s numbers in his second year were almost identical to his first: 21.7 points on 49.5 percent shooting, 11.4 boards, 2.5 blocks. Those numbers improved in the playoffs, indicating Duncan’s ability to step his game up when it counted the most. Throughout most of his career, Duncan was a legitimate 20 points, ten rebound threat, even when the Spurs added Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The Big Fundamental was far-and-away the best of the trio, but it’s tough to say that he would’ve won the four other titles without his international All-Stars. His second ‘chip came in 2003, the same year he won his second and final regular season MVP award. The Spurs would win two more titles that decade — a time when the NBA was rife with talent. In the West, Duncan and Kobe Bryant would meet numerous times throughout the playoffs. In the early parts of the decade, Los Angeles were a handful for anyone since they had the Shaq/Kobe tandem, but Duncan and the Spurs got vengeance in the mid-2000s, a tough time for the Lakers who had lost Shaq, and had yet to add Pau Gasol.
Even though the Lakers weren’t contenders, the West still had plenty of great teams, including the seven-seconds-or-less Suns and the Dallas Mavericks with a prime Dirk Nowitzki,
Duncan had the number of another all-time great: LeBron James. A James-led team met with a Duncan-led team in the Finals three times, and just once was LeBron able to overcome the Big Fundamental. The first matchup in 2007 doesn’t hold as much weight since LeBron carried his Cavaliers to the Finals that year, but the Spurs were as dominant as they should’ve been, and swept the Cavs; the victory in 2014 was remarkable — even more so since they were beaten the year before.
Since the start of this decade, Timmy D’s skill have regressed, but San Antonio has done a fantastic job of engineering a smooth transition. With Kawhi Leonard turning into a top-five player in the league, Duncan had someone to pass the torch to. And once R.C. Buford inked LaMarcus Aldridge, there was almost no doubt that Duncan could fully pass the torch to the next generation.
The Spurs also signed Pau Gasol recently, effectively ending Duncan’s era and leaving it in great hands.
A true testament to the greatness sustained by Duncan and the Spurs is how they’ve made the playoffs in 18 straight seasons since drafting Duncan, and just one time have they had a season where they didn’t collect 50 wins–the lockout-shortened season in 1998-99.
When someone says that actions speak louder than words, Duncan personifies that. He’s always been a quiet superstar but has put up tremendous numbers during his career. On top of the five championships and 15 All-Star selections, Duncan has appeared on 15 All-NBA teams and 14 All-Defensive teams, solidifying himself as an all-time great on defense.
His 15,091 total rebounds are good for sixth on the NBA’s all-time list, and 3,020 blocks put him at fifth on the list. On the Spurs’ all-time leaderboard, Duncan ranks first in almost every major category.
Farewell, Tim Duncan. You were a true professional, and your name will undoubtedly stand the test of time.