Head Coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs gearing up versus the Miami Heat prior to Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals. Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images– http://www.nba.com/spurs/tim-duncan-career-retrospective/
Several people should find it strange I should be writing this because I’ve never called myself a basketball fan—at the very least, not growing up. I’ve never seen LeBron play for Cleveland before he came home and my first favorite NBA team was the Toronto Raptors because they had a Velociraptor for a mascot.
That said, unlike the general public that make up the crazy basketball-loving Philippines, I should probably be crucified for even trying to just talk about basketball—let alone, trying to do so about a basketball player who’s already loved by millions.
And, that would make sense. Why dare trying to talk about a the number 1 draft pick of 1997 as if I should know anything that people who’ve been watching him since then (or before that, even) should already know? Maybe I should feel more confident talking about him if I could say that I watched at least 10 years of his 19-year stint (but I didn’t—and the Spurs even won their 4th championship in 2007). Maybe if I watched him for at least 5 years, around the same season The Big Fundamental played his 1000th game with San Antonio (but, again, I didn’t).
3 years. I only watched Tim Duncan play for 3 years of his entire career, and I still somehow stomached the pride to call myself a fan of his and the San Antonio Spurs.
Hopping on the ‘bandwagon’
I certainly picked a convenient time to be a Spurs fan in 2013. That’s because they ended up beating the Miami Heat and becoming the NBA champions the following year. While personal experience has taught me that the flak of liking a play-off team (especially at 23) is a very real thing, it only seems worse when they’ve made it to the finals and actually won. And, while I can imagine the off-putting feeling of new people liking teams that others have loved for years, it’s never short of a disheartening experience seeing the strong hate towards people who’ve come to start liking the game the first time—most especially a lot of it that’s directed towards the new Warriors and Cavs fans these past 2 seasons.
But surprisingly, amidst all the vibrant hate that manages to surface because of social media, I found myself in a place of content never having yet seen that brand of revulsion from the biggest of basketball fans (a good number of them Spurs fans) I’ve come to know. Amazingly, while loud basketball enthusiasts never seem to hold back anything from praise to criticism, these giant Spurs fans I’ve managed to get to know seem to be able to provide just as much analyses, without hardly ever lashing out on anyone.
Naturally, and not even knowing what a power forward was in 2013, it became so much easier to be a fan the Spurs, and basketball in general, because of the local fan base. It became so much easier to want to read up on them, and become an even deeper fan even outside of what I’d see them do on the court. Though, I’ll proudly admit that games like Game 3 of the 2013 NBA finals against the Heat, with 16 3-pointers from the Spurs, could be enough to make anyone a fan.
So, where is the praise for Tim Duncan?
Strange. I originally intended for this article to be about how marvelous and game changing, as much as life-changing, the person of Tim Duncan was but instead I found myself talking about the fans he inspired. But, somehow, I think that in itself [his fan base] may be one of his greatest legacies.
Surely, there’s no doubting how easy it would be to qualify the greatness of an athlete by sheer numbers—and with 5 NBA championships, 15 All Star appearances, 2 MVP Awards, 3 Finals MVP Awards, being the franchise’s all-time leading scorer to date, and being the third player in all of NBA history to win 1,000 games while being the first person to do so with one team, it’s absolutely no question. I’m sure Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, whom he’s also set a record with for the most wins by a trio with 575 regular season wins and 126 playoff wins, would agree, too.
But while those awards are a few The Big Fundamental can be proud to look back on, I hope sees what kind of fans he’s bred throughout his 19-year stint as a Spur. He bred fans that didn’t just explode everywhere, they did it where it counted: on the court and in conversation. He bred fans who’ve been and continue to be a number of the league’s greatest (any visit to any NBA player’s Twitter account may very well validate that) And, most especially, he bred fans who never seemed to treat their love for basketball as an exclusive privilege. He bred fans that ended up sharing that love and allowing the ‘new players’ on the team to grow with them. He seems to have bred a number selfless ones—and there’s no doubt they’ve taken so much after Tim Duncan and his team. Now that’s certainly a legacy, on top of any physical awards, to be proud of.
There may be no rings awarded for just sheer selflessness, no trophies to kiss given out just for loyalty, and certainly no outrageous payouts with the salary cuts he’s opted to take, but I do certainly hope that he realizes what he’s brought into the game, and to people everywhere; players and fans alike, should be exceedingly enough to assure that he’s going out as one of the greatest ever to pick up a basketball even without a 6th championship.
A final goodbye
While there’s so many ways I can think of to say goodbye to one of the game of basketball’s greatest, I’ve opted to end this the way he probably would: making it less about himself and about someone else.
In the same way Tim answered this right after winning the 2014 NBA finals, and when he was asked about what made his relationship with Coach Pop after 17 years special, I think it’s a perfect send off.
“[It’s] his fire,” Duncan said. “He brings it every year—his passion for the game, his ability to change with the game, and change us with the game. It’s amazing; it keeps us fresh.”
How I wish you could only know how much you’ve changed the game and changed so many people, including a random 23 year-old 3 years ago, with it. While your quiet composure may similarly reflect your decision to go out silently before the next season starts, I genuinely hope that you know so many of us will miss that loud fire and passion you brought to the game that you let speak for itself. And, certainly, constantly being left breathless while saying not just, ‘That’s an amazing player,’ but also, ‘That’s an amazing team.’ A team you built, and a team I’m thankful, no matter how late, I learned to call mine, too.
Thank you, Mr. Duncan, for changing with the game, changing it completely with your existence, and changing all of us with it for a long time to come. There will be several other MVPs racking up more awards anyone can count to come, but there will certainly never be another Tim Duncan.