Who Was That Masked Man?

20140604_duncan_hug_ballTim Duncan retired last week after 19 seasons in the NBA, all of which he spent in the “small market” of San Antonio.  There’s not much that I can write here that hasn’t been already written about the Big Fundamental, but I can’t let the retirement of my favorite NBA player pass by without expressing my thoughts somehow.

So here goes…

Despite the fact that I never actually lived in San Antonio, I became a Spurs fan as a small child all thanks to The Admiral David Robinson.  His combination of size and athleticism was incredible to watch, and as I grew older I realized how much of a gentleman and wonderful role-model that he was off the court.  He was such an amazing role-model, in fact, that the NBA’s community service award possesses his likeness.  

Then, in 1997, San Antonio somehow got The Admiral 2.0 in the form of a senior from Wake Forest.  

It didn’t take long for Duncan to establish himself in my mind as the greatest Spur ever.  The 1999 championship run cemented that fact as the “boring” Spurs dismantled everyone by winning games with smaller total scores than most college games.  And Duncan just seemed to fit the entire ethos of the Spurs system.  Or perhaps it was the Spurs adjusting to Duncan’s ethos.

It was so easy to take Duncan for granted.  His quiet personality and understated yet brutally efficient game easily flew under the radar as bigger stars grabbed the national spotlight – Shaq, Kobe, Iverson, KG, etc.  I was proud of having a “different’ superstar in San Antonio.  It wasn’t that he was better because he was different, but that he he was different because he was better.  People praise the Spurs style of basketball and the unselfish attitude that permeates throughout the entire organization, but that attitude would not have been possible if not for Duncan.  The humble superstar led by example and showed his teammates that no individual was bigger than the team.  Why did Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili sign under market value contracts to stay in San Antonio?  Because Tim Duncan did.  Coach Pop gets a lot of praise, and deservedly so, but he wouldn’t have been possible without Duncan.  

Or is it the other way around?  Are they just two sides of the same coin?

Duncan wasn’t a robot, despite what everyone assumed, and we all witnessed his humanity after the heart breaking Game 6 (and Game 7) against Miami in the 2013 Finals.  Watching that press conference as Duncan spoke to the media after losing what should have been his fifth ring, you could not help but realize how much he cared for the game.  There were feelings behind that expressionless exterior.  And those feelings were directed on a path of vengeance in 2014 as Duncan ensured that the taste of 2013 would be washed away be sweet victory once again.  You could call it a storybook ending, and I would say who deserved the storybook ending more than Duncan?

But Duncan didn’t go out with the storybook ending like the Admiral did before him.  He came back for one last ride, and I am extremely grateful that he did.  Would it have been cool for him to walk away under the confetti?  Yeah, it would have been.  But at the end of the day, I will be forever grateful for that 19th season.  19 is 1 more than 18, and 1 more season of Duncan is better than 1 less season of Duncan.

My first son will be born this fall, and I still have not quite wrapped my head around the fact that he will never see Duncan play in person.  He’ll have to settle for stories ad nauseam from his dad about the “good ol’ days” when Duncan embarrassed defenders with his patented bank shot.  He’ll have to settle for dad showing him endless YouTube clips of Duncan operating in the post.  

Duncan’s retirement was perfect him.  Completely devoid of any pomp and circumstance.  He was the Lone Ranger simply disappearing after the wrongs have been righted.  Who was that masked man?  Well, that was Tim Duncan.

Timmy, thanks for everything.  And to borrow a line from Tony Parker from one of the famous H.E.B. commercials, I will relish all of the memories of this great 19 year ride.  

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