Tim Duncan, arguably the best power forward to ever play the game of basketball, decided to retire on Monday after 19 seasons in the league.
Duncan announced his retirement in a statement released through the San Antonio Spurs organization. In classic team-first, it’s-not-about-me Duncan style, no quotes from him were featured in the Spurs’ retirement press release.
Over the course of his career, Duncan put together a résumé that few have ever matched: five NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVPs, two regular season MVPs, 15 All-Star Game selections, 10 All-NBA First Team selections, one team.
But more so, he was known for the modesty, humility and consistency with which he played the game. Nicknamed “The Big Fundamental,” Duncan was never flashy and rarely expressive on the court. While other great players of his generation were known for turnaround fadeaways and ferocious dunks, Duncan’s signature shot was a vanilla bank shot from mid-range, which he punished defenders with over and over again during his two-decade career.
Duncan never let the opposition get to him, going about his game in the same methodical manner no matter the opponent. And they knew it, too. “The Spurs won because of Tim Duncan, a guy I could never break,” Shaquille O’Neal once said. “I could talk trash to Patrick Ewing, get in David Robinson’s face, get a rise out of Alonzo Mourning, but when I went at Tim he’d look at me like he was bored.”
Off the court, Duncan was understated and unselfish. When told after his team won the 2003 NBA Finals that he had registered 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks in its final game, Duncan simply replied, “That’s cool.” When teammate Tony Parker won the NBA Finals MVP in 2007, no one appeared happier for him than Duncan.
The Spurs organization knew what it had almost from the beginning. “The chances of us trading Tim Duncan are about the same as (then-scout) R.C. Buford starting at off guard,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the team drafted Duncan No. 1 in the 1997 NBA Draft. As such, the team built around Duncan from the outset, surrounding the Virgin-Islands-born player with teammates that matched him both in skill and personality.
Soon, Duncan would become Rookie of the Year. “Do I give a speech or something?” he joked. Just two years later, he would hoist the team’s first championship trophy and his own first NBA Finals MVP.
The Spurs never missed the playoffs during Duncan’s 19-year career, and Duncan’s statistics remained remarkably consistent through his first 18 seasons, each of those seasons scoring between 17.1 and 22.6 points per 36 minutes and pulling down between 10.5 and 12.2 rebounds.
Perhaps even more impressively, they have become known over Duncan’s career as the premiere organization in the league ― as well as its most international. Few could argue with the idea that Duncan, one of the greatest and most selfless players ever, is the main reason why.