The Two Sides of Tim Duncan’s Fandom
Tim Duncan announced his retirement on July 11th, 2016 in a way that was true to his personality: through a press release on the Spurs’ NBA website. No quotes, no fanfare, just a basic announcement. It’s funny. When you compare Duncan's announcement to Kobe Bryant's season-long farewell tour, which ended with a shocking, yet spectacular 60-point performance in the last game of his career during the regular season. Duncan ended his career in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals in Oklahoma City against a younger, more athletic and feistier Thunder team.
I believe that there was a moment where Tim knew it was over. In that very Game 6 against OKC, the Spurs were slowly chipping away at the lead after the Thunder were up by as many as 25 points with 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter. With just over 3 minutes to go, OKC was only up by 11 points. The Spurs had possession with the opportunity to cut the lead to single digits as the game was coming to a close. San Antonio ran a high pick-and-roll with Kawhi Leonard handling the ball, Kawhi gave Tim a bounce pass as Duncan’s man closed out on him. Duncan attacked the basket, but was denied by Serge Ibaka. Thunder go out on the fast break, and Kevin Durant threw it down to extend his team’s lead to 13. The Spurs then called timeout, and Duncan, at the 2:20 mark, lowered his head in shame for not converting the basket and in acknowledgment that this was it. The game was over.
I’ve spent 2/3 of my life watching Duncan play basketball, and with the outpouring of love he’s been receiving from fans, the media, current and former players, it marks a sad day for NBA fans. But if I told my younger self that I’d miss Tim Duncan and that I would have the utmost respect for him, my younger self would look at me in total disbelief. That’s because I didn’t just hate Tim Duncan and the Spurs. I HATED Tim Duncan and the Spurs with a passion! Let me explain how I went from that point to my point of view now.
I grew up on the East Coast, so that what I affiliated with. I still am an East Coast guy to this day actually. This means that I always rooted for the East side of things. During the East Coast vs. West Coast Rap Beef, I rocked with Biggie. All-Star Games? East side was the best side. NBA Finals? Eastern Conference again. I was an MJ/Chicago Bulls fan, so when he left in 1998, I just kept on represeting for the East, and in the '99 Finals, the East Coast representative were the New York Knicks, whose stars happened to be Patrick Ewing, Latrell Sprewell, and Allan Houston among many others. They were facing off against the San Antonio Spurs at the time. I don’t know if it was the black-and-silver jerseys that created this villain look for me, or if it was the Spurs clinching their title with what I called a bullshit baseline jumper by Avery Johnson of all people. Nevertheless, the Hatred began by the Spurs "taking" away a title from my then-beloved New York Knickerbockers.
As irrational and ridiculous as The Hatred was, it stayed there for awhile. It remained for the main complaint NBA fans would use until the 2010s in regards to the Spurs: they’re boring, they’re not fun, there’s no flamboyance or pizazz. I’m sure Spurs fans didn’t complain nor care because they kept winning since Duncan's arrival, netting 50-plus wins during the last 17 years in the regular season, the longest streak in NBA history. Except for one year, which was the lockout-shortened '98-'99 season where they recorded a league-best 37-13 record.
The Hatred grew after they “took” another title away from my then-beloved New Jersey Nets in '03. I was a huge Jason Kidd fan when he was arguably the best pure point guard in the league, and I just wanted good things for him. And Tim Duncan “took” that championshiop away from Kidd. Then in the '05 finals, the Spurs won the series in 7 games against my then-beloved Detroit Pistons. I was still a young and ignorant fan, not understanding the ins and outs of the game, the delicacies, or the devil in the details that made teams and superstars so great, so that's what mainly kept The Hatred alive. I’d get perplexed as to why Duncan kept winning, internally screaming,”WHAT DOES HE EVEN DO? HE’S NOT EVEN THAT GOOD! HOW DOES HE KEEP WINNING??!? IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! IT’S THE SAME BANKSHOT AND SHITTY HOOK SHOTS OVER AND OVER! HOW DO THEY EVEN GO IN?!!? HE *bangs table* STINKS!!"
In '07, not only did my passion for the game grow, but so did my knowledge. Even though most people would choose Kobe as a better player, I understood what made Steve Nash a back-to-back MVP in '05 and '06. My younger self wouldn’t have seen that. So when the Spurs would face off against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in '07, even though I was rooting for LeBron, I wasn’t mad that the Spurs won. Because I finally realized through watching sports and going through life that consistency is synonymous with greatness, and the Spurs epitomized that, especially their leader, Tim Duncan. Another thing that endeared me was seeing how happy and perfectly content Duncan was as his teammate, Tony Parker, won Finals MVP after Duncan had already won it three times. He acted like Tony was the leader and he deserved it, and he probably would’ve reacted the same way for the 15th man. That’s not only what made him a great leader, but a great teammate.
At that point, he was already anointed as the Greatest Power Forward of All Time in the NBA, usurping great players like Charles Barkley, Kevin McHale, Karl Malone and Kevin Garnett. It’s hard to argue that when those four have a combined four titles and Duncan alone had won his fourth at the time by, along with racking up two MVP awards, which he won back-to-back. He was perennial member of the All-Star team (15 total), the All-NBA (15 total, tied for most all-time) and All-Defensive teams (15 total, most all-time). That was the endearing thing for basketball nuts: his efficiency on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he could be the content decoy, the content pick-setter, the content passer, or the content scorer. And defensively, he seemed to always be at the right position at all times, mastering the angles on how to defend the pick-and-roll and how/when to help from the weak side. His game, as boring as it looked, was as perfect as it could be.
The Spurs kept on winning, aka Spursing, but they couldn’t make it back to the championship round for awhile. Amazingly, as they got older and suffered tough losses, they didn’t rebuild or commit any panic trades. They simply shrugged their shoulders, went back to the drawing board, and came back out the next season like it was business as usual.
They finally returned to the Finals in '13 against the star-laden Miami Heat team. It was LeBron again, and this time, he had help in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat somehow pulled the series out, and say somehow because they withstood a throwback Duncan performance of 31 points and 17 rebounds in Game 6, and needed a miracle three from Ray Allen to send it into overtime and force a Game 7, which the Heat won in the final minute. I’m not sure what was more unbelievable; the Heat winning Game 6 or the Spurs able to come back from a gut wrenching loss and compete the way they did in Game 7. Miami won the title, but San Antonio also had somehow gained even more respect.
The following year, they nabbed what could arguably be their most gratifying title by defeating the very same Heat that beat them a year ago in five games. It was the best revenge. Not only was the dominant series win surprising, but the fact that they recovered from '13 to go all the way back and win it, when they were a year older, but led by their young superstar-in-the-making, Kawhi Leonard, who nabbed Finals MVP honours. Duncan also received his fifth ring in the process. His GOAT status for the Power Forward position was already cemented, but that win might’ve also secured his Top 10 of All-Time status as well.
I don’t think you can win 5 titles and consistently have 50-win seasons without having some dog in you, which made me love Kobe’s quote about Duncan even more. Even though I wasn’t always 100% sure, you could see Duncan’s competitive drive, the less friendly and talkative he got when the playoffs arrived, and his insane-looking, bug-eyed expression crested on his face. The thing I’ll admire most about him is that he didn’t seem to care what other people did or said about him. Whether it was his “boring” game, his fashion sense, his refusal to be more of a celebrity and a social guy. He stayed in his lane, did his thing, played the game he loved, and became one of the more unique and decorated superstars the sport has ever seen. The Spurs released a beautiful video highlighting Tim’s career, and I’m sure he’d love how fitting it was to his style, as there were no words, since Tim Duncan always let his game, and everyone else, do the talking for him.
Happy Retirement, Timmy!
written by The W