It’s fair to say that I’m crestfallen today, less than 24 hours after Tim Duncan quietly announced his retirement after 19 seasons with my beloved San Antonio Spurs (Pittsburgh doesn’t have an NBA team and the Spurs consistency over the past quarter-century drew me to them … plus, you couldn’t pay a typical Pittsburgher to root for a Cleveland team).
Arguably one of the top five players of all-time, Duncan finished his career with 26,496 points (14th most in NBA history) on 50.9 percent shooting from the field, 15,091 rebounds (sixth all-time in NBA history), 4,225 assists (leading to 8,121 points generated by assists since 2000-2001), and 3,020 blocked shots (fifth all-time) over his 1,392 regular season games (seventh all-time).
When you look at his overall body of work, which features 15 All-Star Game appearances, five NBA championships (including a stretch of three in five years from 2003 through 2007), a pair of NBA Finals MVPs and regular season MVP awards, and 1998 Rookie of the Year honors, he has to go down as the greatest power forward to ever play the game. His Spurs won at least 50 games in each of Duncan’s 19 seasons (excluding the lockout-shortened 1998-1999 season, in which they won the Finals).
Let’s take a look back at Tim Duncan’s collegiate and professional career.
Four Years of Domination at Wake Forest
Timothy Theodore Duncan was born on April 25, 1976 in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. After prepping at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal High School in St. Croix, Duncan enrolled at Wake Forest, where he re-wrote the record books. Duncan is the ACC’s all-time leader in blocked shots (481) and finished his career with 2,117 points (fourth in school history) and 1,570 career rebounds (second in Wake Forest history).
Consensus Player of the Year
Duncan capped off his senior season as the consensus National Player of the Year in 1997, earning laurels as the top player in the country by the AP, National Association of Basketball Coaches, the Sporting News and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association; he also won the Naismith Award, the Rupp Trophy and the John Wooden Award as his Demon Deacons went 97-31. They won the ACC title in 1995 and 1996 ACC and went to the Elite Eight in 1996.
Number One Pick in the 1997 NBA Draft
After his accomplishments at Wake Forest, Duncan was the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft, held in Charlotte, less than two hours from Winston-Salem via I-85. Few could have predicted his career would span nearly two decades, two different arenas (the Alamo Dome and the AT&T Center) and only one head coach (Gregg Popovich). No one knew Duncan's run with the Spurs would become one of the greatest runs in all of professional sports over the past quarter century.
Rookie of the Year
The Spurs were fresh off a 20-62 season, the lone losing season in San Antonio since 1989-1990, when they drafted Duncan. He would earn Rookie of the Year honors on the strength of a 21.1 ppg average as his team bounced back from an injury plagued 1996-1997 campaign to a 56-26 record. While the Spurs lost in the second round of the 1998 playoffs, the next season would put San Antonio on the national sporting stage.
Putting San Antonio on the Sports Map
Despite a labor dispute resulting in a lockout that wiped out nearly half of the 1998-1999 season, the Spurs, behind their 'twin tower' tandem of Duncan and David Robinson, would capture their first NBA championship in franchise history over the New York Knicks in five games. Duncan averaged 23.2 ppg and 11.5 rpg during the playoffs en route to the first of three NBA Finals MVP awards.
Passing the Torch
Robinson would retire a champion as the Spurs would defeat the (East Rutherford) New Jersey Nets in six games for their second NBA crown in 2003. The 2002-2003 season was David Robinson’s last, but there was no question as to whom the torch would be passed to as Duncan earned NBA Finals MVP honors for the second time in his career. While 'The Admiral' would hang up his shoes, Duncan would headline a new big three which featured a pair of young guns in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
“Big Three” Bring Home Number Three
After losing in the Western Conference Semifinals the previous seasons, the Larry O’Brien trophy would return to the Alamo City as the Spurs knocked off the defending NBA champion Detroit Pistons in a seven game slugfest. Duncan earned Finals MVP honors for the third time in his career, capped off by a 25 point, 11 rebound performance in the decisive Game 7.
Nine Years, Four Titles
For the third time in five years, the Spurs once again climbed the summit of the NBA, capturing the franchise’s fourth NBA title in a four-game sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers and a then young and unproven LeBron James. And while Parker would earn Finals MVP honors, Duncan led the team in rebounds (11.5), assists (3.8) and blocks (2.3). It would not be the last time Duncan and James would square off in the NBA Finals however…
Different Role, But Sweet Revenge
The 2014 NBA Finals basically was a showdown between the team which developed home-grown stars (San Antonio) and a team which bought their way to a pair of titles (the Miami Heat), as is the apparent practice in South Florida (see: 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins). It also marked a rematch of the 2013 Finals, won by the mercenaries from Miami in a seven-game thriller (unless you’re from South Texas). Duncan’s 15.4 ppg and 10 rpg, one of five double-digit scorers in the series for the Spurs, powered the silver and black to a fifth NBA title in a five-game win over Miami.
End of an Era
Duncan’s career would come to an end in unceremonious fashion as the Oklahoma City Thunder eliminated the Spurs in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals. Duncan would score 19 points and grab five rebounds in what would turn out to be his final NBA game.
So, would it have been any surprise that one of only three NBA players to hail from the U.S. Virgin Islands (Raja Bell and Charles Claxton being the others) would quietly announce his retirement at the end of the season instead of going the “diva” route of a “farewell tour” like certain other NBA stars who retired two years too late (coughcough Kobe coughcough Bryant)? If you followed Tim Duncan’s career over the past 19 years, then you would have to know that Mr. Fundamental would end his career the way he played the game: low key.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.