San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan retired on Monday, and in classic Duncan fashion, he didn’t hold a formal retirement announcement press conference for reporters. He didn’t even release a statement, for that matter — the Spurs did on his behalf on Monday, and on Wednesday, Duncan belatedly followed with his own personal retirement statement.
In lieu of Duncan’s relatively private retirement, on Tuesday Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, who coached Duncan for the forward’s 19 outstanding NBA seasons, decided to huddle up in a corner of the Spurs’ practice facility to speak about Duncan’s departure from playing.
Popovich, however, became emotional while recalling a conversation he had with Duncan’s late father William before he died in 2002. William Duncan made Popovich promise to him that he’d make sure Duncan, then only 26 years old, would remain the humble, hard-working person he still is today.
As Popovich told it:
I can still remember, before his father passed away, him looking at me in the eye and saying, “I’m going to hold you responsible to make sure that when he’s done, he’s the same person that he is now.”
In that respect he, is. He’s grown as a person as we all do through experiences but his inner core — he was over himself when he came in and after all these accolades and all the success, he’s still gotten over himself. Hasn’t changed a lick.
Fourteen years later, it’s clear that Popovich made good on his promise. But to do so, it meant that Duncan would finally have to retire and leave Popovich’s program. For Popovich, that reality is hard to face.
“To think that he’s going to be gone,” he said, taking a moment to rather his thoughts, “makes it really difficult to imagine walking into practice, going to a game, getting on a bus, taking in a piece of carrot cake — whatever it might be.”
Popovich’s Tim Duncan T-shirt read “Impossible Is Potential.”
Over the course of the 15-minute presser, Popovich credited Duncan for creating a positive environment within the Spurs’ organization for players and coaches to develop within. Suffice it to say, Duncan’s leadership style really, really worked — the Spurs won five NBA championships with Duncan.
“We’re all grateful to him,” said Popovich.
Watch the full press conference above.