As ends of eras go, if Kobe Bryant's 82-game chuck-fest fantasy camp, complete with the adulation of tens of thousands (some of it likely very, very forced) at each stop along the way, was the quintessential Kobe Bryant way to say good-bye, then Monday's adieu by San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan, calling it a career after 19 seasons, was quintessential Duncan.
No party, no six-month slurp fest, no tweet, no Instagram picture...just "Hey, I'm out" via press release on a Monday morning, when half the world is on vacation, no less.
How very Duncan!
Where do we start with the Big Fundamental? When I think of the career of Tim Duncan, here are the things I will think of:
1. The bank shot. That goddamn bank shot that seemed to go in every time, especially in his prime years when he was winning two regular season MVPs (2002, 2003) and three NBA Finals MVPs (1999, 2003, 2005). As an NBA fan, and especially one whose team shares a division with the Spurs, my feeling has always been, if you're going to die a basketball death in the NBA, then let me die spectacularly. There's no shame in being on the business end of a LeBron 45-point YouTube video. But damn, man, Duncan's freaking bank shot was like getting eaten by a thousand carpenter ants. (Sidebar — I'm guessing Duncan was an underrated H-O-R-S-E player with the glass wizardry he could unleash.)
2. The ping-pong balls ruined the Boston Celtics in 1997. Rick Pitino took the Celtics job, in large part, because the C's had two lottery picks in 1997, which meant their shot at Duncan was better than any other team's. Instead, in the one season where the Spurs were missing David Robinson during the Admiral Era, they came up aces in the lottery, and the rest is history. The Celtics? They wound up taking Chauncey Billups (and dumping him long before he became Mr. Big Shot) and Ron Mercer...and they continued to suck for a long, long time. The Spurs won a title within two seasons.
3. Oh, and by the way, nice to live in a city where your primary basketball rival has David Robinson go out injured for a season and they wind up with Tim Duncan with the first pick in the draft, and your primary football rival has Peyton Manning bow out with a neck injury and they wind up taking Andrew Luck with the first pick in the draft. Thanks for nothing, sports gods. What the hell did Houston do to deserve this?
4. Speaking of David Robinson, the manner in which Robinson began to step aside and make it Duncan's team directly led to titles in 1999 and 2003. Following Robinson's example, the manner in which Duncan began to take a complementary role behind Kawhi Leonard led directly to Duncan's final championship in 2014. Duncan, and in turn the Spurs, have been a clinic in aging gracefully, with star players carrying forward the culture mantle for the franchise and taking less money so stars in their prime could get paid, and so the team could be active in free agency. There were no golden parachutes with the Spurs, just more trophies.
5. In the "inextricable link between star player and head coach" pantheon, in the modern era (say, 1980's forward), it's a dead heat between Michael Jordan/Phil Jackson, Tom Brady/Bill Belichick, Joe Torre/Derek Jeter, and Gregg Popovich/Tim Duncan. I'm racking my brain to add to that. The buy-in is multiple titles together. Feel free to add to that list, but I can't.
6. Here is the résumé of one Timothy Theodore Duncan:
* 5× NBA champion (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014)
* 3× NBA Finals MVP (1999, 2003, 2005)
* 2× NBA Most Valuable Player (2002–2003)
* 15× NBA All-Star (1998, 2000–2011, 2013, 2015)
* NBA All-Star Game MVP (2000)
* 10× All-NBA First Team (1998–2005, 2007, 2013)
* 3× All-NBA Second Team (2006, 2008–2009)
* 2× All-NBA Third Team (2010, 2015)
* 8× NBA All-Defensive First Team (1999–2003, 2005, 2007–2008)
* 7× NBA All-Defensive Second Team (1998, 2004, 2006, 2009–2010, 2013, 2015)
* NBA Rookie of the Year (1998)
* San Antonio Spurs all-time leading scorer
* USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (2003)
* Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year (2003)
* National college player of the year (1997)
* 2× Consensus first-team All-American (1996–1997)
* 2× ACC Player of the Year (1996–1997)
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7. My all-time NBA list goes Michael, LeBron, Magic, Duncan. He was that damn good.
So adios, Tim Duncan. I'm sure, somewhere, you're celebrating with a milkshake, a burger, a quiet giddiness over the marathon session of Minecraft (or whatever the kids these days are playing) you've got scheduled for later tonight.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.