To know the kind of player and legend newly retired Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs was, you simply have to look at a paper he had co-written for a psychology journal while he was still in college.
Duncan, who was one of the research assistants of Wake Forest social psychologist and lead author Mark Leary, helped to write a chapter in the book, Aversive Interpersonal Behavior, titled, "Blowhards, Snobs, and Narcissists: Interpersonal Reactions to Excessive Egotism." That says a lot about the player-slash-Psychology major who epitomized selflessness in a world teeming with the biggest egos.
In his 19 years in the league, the player widely regarded as the greatest power forward of all time was the consummate teammate. Drafted first in 1997, Duncan humbly deferred to then-Spurs elder statesman and resident franchise player David Robinson (himself a top pick in the 1987 NBA Draft) instead of engaging him in a divisive power struggle. Upon the arrival of Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Kawhi Leonard, and eventually LaMarcus Aldridge, Duncan, true to his team-first mentality, had no qualms letting the younger guys take over the reins.
Since day one, Duncan had been the most unlikely superstar, embodying the opposite of what is expected from a player of his caliber: no-fuss, team-oriented, zeroed-in. And when it was time to hang it up, he retired in the most Tim Duncan way possible. No bombastic farewell tours, just a one-page vanilla press release in which he didn't talk about himself. If he had his way, we're sure he wouldn't even let his long-time coach Gregg Popovich do the talking for him.
But that somber facade cannot overshadow his myriad contributions to the game. Rookie of the Year (1998), five-time champion (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2014), two-time MVP (2002–2003), 15-time All-Star, eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member—the list goes on. As much as many deem his team's style of play as "boring," Duncan was actually one of the most exciting players to watch for those who really understood and appreciate the game.
What those unflashy bank and hook shots really meant? A solid career average of 19 points per game, making him the Spurs' all-time leading scorer (26,496 points).
He was the perennial anchor of the vaunted Spurs defense even before Kawhi came to his own, finishing fifth in the all-time blocks leader board (3,020); he's the top shot-blocker in the history of the NBA Playoffs (568).
Throughout his 19-year career, Duncan stuck to the script, provided the steady presence, and quietly steered the Spurs at both ends of the floor. Despite his astounding accomplishments, many still believe Duncan isn't best the power forward of all time. Hall of Famers like Charles Barkley and Karl Malone, and future ones like Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki are constantly brought up in the conversation in support of their claim.
What sets Duncan apart from all of those other names? Overall success, typified by the number of his championship rings.
The man was all-business, doing everything asked of him for the benefit of the team, not paying heed to individual accolades even though at the end of the day he was able to receive a handful. He turned out to be the most coachable superstar of his generation who further flourished in Coach Popovich's selfless system.
As to why Timmy rarely showed his emotions on court, maybe because he knew he'd only get into trouble doing so—right, Joey Crawford?—or he had realized early on that he was better off without them, judging from the dry humor in his commercials.
Duncan is like a dull yet highly efficient 9-to-5 employee who does his job totally unencumbered by silly office drama, is regularly promoted and rewarded for his loyalty to the company.
Think about it: We may never see another player as superb as Tim Duncan again. The world, in fact, may not even notice he's gone. You know it's the kind of exit Duncan would find absolutely perfect. Let's do him the honor of remembering he was much more than that.
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