Tim Duncan probably got up at 6 a.m. with no alarm. Then, he went outside to get the newspaper, the kind you hold in your hand to read (darn kids and their Interwebs), poured himself a cup of coffee from beans he ground by himself, looked at the rotary phone he knew he’d use to tell the San Antonio Spurs he was done playing NBA basketball.
At some point, he made that call, probably went out to cut the grass with a push mower, and turned his Motorola Razor off because he was tired of the texts. The decision was made.
All bad comedy aside, Duncan was one of a kind, probably the greatest player since the Jordan era, easily the most under-appreciated in all of professional sports, is retired.
In a press release befitting the waiving of an undrafted free agent, the Spurs announced to the world that the man who anchored the franchise to five titles and amassed over 71 percent of his starts as wins was gone. And he wouldn’t even be showing up to his own retirement press conference the next day.
TD21 is the last of a dying breed of true back to the basket big men, but more will be remembered by the masses for what he wasn’t. True to his career, there was no victory tour where he accepted standing ovations and gifts while hoisting up 35 shots per game.
There was no bloated “honorary” contract, keeping the team from adding parts that could help them win just to satiate the ego of the long-time legend.
There were no endless stops in awkward jerseys trying to hold onto grim death, playing until no one wants him on a roster.
Duncan did things his own way and from doing so, metastasized some sort of personality that lives in the 1870’s and rides horseback to games, tipping his hat to ladies along the way.
The truth is, all of that came to be because Duncan played a different brand of basketball than has been sold, so different that his entire career has been one referendum on “fundamentals” and “playing the game the right way,” which is what people say when you do things like move without the ball, eschew flash plays for efficient ones, and (AHEM) occasionally use the backboard to make shots.
It’s sad that we’ve gotten to the point where there’s so little thought that just doing those things is “playing the right way,” but the truth is, a lot of guys play the game the “right way.” Duncan was able to build on this mystic, manufactured personality because humility and non self-aggrandizing seems to be going more extinct by the day.
Truthfully, Duncan was a fierce competitor, one who was wont to get in a referee’s face with eyes as wide as Vermont when a call didn’t go his way. He was a ruthless competitor, never asking the Spurs to give him anything that would be to the detriment of the team, and going to the same moves over, and over, and over again until you lost or it didn’t work. Usually, you lost.
There will be others like Duncan, though not as genuinely great as he. He’s the best power forward of all time, and it’s not even close. He’s arguably one of the top 10, maybe even top 5 players ever to put on a jersey. There will be other humble superstars who stay in the same town their entire careers and always seemingly take one for the better of the team. They probably won’t win five rings though.
Upon his retirement, former player Etan Thomas shared a story about running into Duncan down the floor. Duncan gave him a few tips. The young Thomas thought Tim was throwing him some verbal junk, but listened anyway. Duncan then complimented him the next time down the floor.
TD21 probably will be remembered in NBA circles more for that personality than any of the rings, the big shots, or the seemingly endless productive career.
There will never, ever be another.
Come tomorrow at the press conference, someone will likely ask Gregg Popovich about it.
Media member: Can you talk a little bit about what Tim Duncan’s retirement means for this franchise, all he’s done and meant, and what the feeling is going forward?
Popovich (likely): It means he won’t be playing in practice or games this fall.
Just as Tim Duncan would have it. There will never be another.