Last year, Joe Posnanski wrote a remarkable piece on Tim Duncan labeling him simply, a "metronome of excellence." The apt description tells you not only everything you need to know about Duncan's basketball ability, but also the reverence basketball fans across the country have for the big man. Duncan, who graduated from Wake Forest in 1997, has been the foundation of a Spurs' dynasty which has stretched across fifteen years. From David Robinson, to Avery Johnson, to Tony Parker, to Kawhi Leonard, there has been one mainstay across the years and across the championships: Tim Duncan. He is the quintessential big man and is almost certainly the last of his kind in the NBA - that is, if there ever really was a first of his kind.
What Duncan has accomplished in his career is nothing short of incredible: five NBA titles, three NBA Finals MVP awards, two NBA MVP wards, 14 All-Star games, ten first-team All-NBA awards, three second team All-NBA awards, eight first-team All-NBA defensive team awards, six second-team All-NBA defensive team awards, NBA rookie of the year, two-time consensus first-team All-American at Wake Forest, two-time ACC Player of the Year, and the 1997 National Player of the Year. The list goes on and on, and it doesn't even scratch the surface of what Duncan has really done: dominate the game of basketball in a way that so few have, for arguably longer than any player in NBA history.
Duncan's accomplishments stand alone without any qualifiers, but what truly sets him apart from other NBA greats is his longevity. The Tim Duncan profile on Basketball Reference lists his nicknames: Timmy, The Big Fundamental, Groundhog Day, and Death & Taxes. The first two are self-explanatory, the latter two attest to Duncan's consistency. Night after night Duncan produces basket after basket, bank shot after bank shot, rebound after rebound, and defensive stop after defensive stop.
Playing against Duncan is a nightmare because he mixes the lethal combination of raw talent, hard work, and an extremely high basketball IQ. Once he gets the ball on the low block everyone in the arena knows he is going to the basket, including the defender, and nobody can stop it. He might drop step to the baseline and put in an off-hand layup, or he may turn back to the inside and hit a little hook shot; hell he might even pivot and fire a banking fadeaway just over the outstretched arm of the defender, as he has done so consistently over the course of his career. The bottom line is that Duncan's game, even at 38, remains timeless.
To me, Tim Duncan isn't just another basketball player - he is basketball. My earliest memories of basketball are watching Timmy dominate the ACC from the confines of the Joel in Winston-Salem, graduating when I was just seven years old. He was one of the reasons I fell in love with basketball in the first place as a kid and in 2014 remains one of the major reasons I'm still in love with the sport. He is the greatest player in Wake Forest history and for as long as I have watched basketball, Tim Duncan has been playing. It's a seemingly reductive statement, but is remarkable in and of itself. He has been in the NBA since I was seven and here, seventeen years later, he just won his fifth NBA title.
With his fifth title he joins an exclusive list of NBA players to win an NBA title in three different decades. Before last night, the feat was exceptionally rare as only one person had done it: John Salley. That's it. One person. Well after last night there are two: John Salley and Tim Duncan. The list of people who have started for an NBA championship team in three different decades: one name - Tim Duncan.
Kawhi Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP, was seven years old when Duncan won his first title in 1999. In doing so, Leonard became the youngest Finals MVP since, you guessed it, Tim Duncan. If it weren't crazy enough that Duncan has won five titles over a span of fifteen years, (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014) it had been seven years since he won his last title with the Spurs. Seven years doesn't seem like a long time, but for an athlete where the window can close very quickly seven years is almost an eternity. Hell seven years ago I hadn't graduated from high school yet, and now I'm less than a year from graduating from law school. Not only did Duncan play a steady slate of games across the seven years, he continued to start in each of the seasons.
The 15-year gap between the first and last title for Duncan is the second-longest of all-time behind only Kareem Abdul Jabbar who had a 17-year gap. Speaking of Jabbar, Duncan passed him this year as the all-time leader in playoff minutes with over 8,900. He is in the top five of any meaningful statistical playoff category: playoff games, playoff points, playoff rebounds, playoff double-doubles (first) and playoff blocks (first) and has averaged a double-double in every Finals which the Spurs went on to win, including this year. Duncan wasn't just a spectator in title number five, but a key contributor averaging 15.4 points per game, 10 rebounds, in 33 minutes per game.
One could talk about Duncan's accolades all day, but a few things are certain regarding his play. He is without a doubt the greatest power forward in NBA history. He is one of the best players to ever play the game, clearly a top ten player in NBA history. He is one of the best college basketball players of all-time. He is the greatest Wake Forest player of all time, in any sport. And he is timeless.
It remains unclear if Duncan will return to the NBA next year. If he does, it will certainly be with the Spurs and he will have a legitimate shot at winning title number six. I believe he has a few years left in him as his style of play is not as physically demanding as some others who predicate their game on sheer force. Duncan is still good enough to start for the Spurs and will continue to have the benefit of Popovich's regular season minutes management, where everyone understands that the playoffs are about the only thing that matter.
Regardless of Duncan's decision on his future, his basketball career has been nothing short of phenomenal and it has truly been an honor to watch him play every step of the way. Congratulations on title number five Timmy and if you come back next year, something tells me it will be Groundhog Day all over again for the rest of the NBA.