Tim Duncan is 40 years old. Let that sink in for all of you basketball nerds out there. We spent the entire year waxing poetic about Kobe Bryant’s career and yet, for all of the deserved adulation received by the Black Mamba in his farewell season, Kobe is actually three years younger than the Big Fundamental. Not that it matters because nobody really bothered checking on Duncan’s age because we rarely, if ever, talk about the forever Spur.
But certain occasions call for certain actions and in the wake of the San Antonio Spurs’ elimination at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder, the question on everybody’s mind isn’t about the slobber-knocker that will be the Warriors-Thunder Conference Finals match up, but about Old Man Riverwalk’s future in the NBA. Duncan himself was opaque when asked by reporters earlier, opting to answer retirement questions with the same stoicism that has come to define his career as much as the five NBA titles, two MVPs, and best power forward of all time label.
If he does end up hanging up his sneakers for good, Duncan will leave behind a legacy as Jordanesque as any. Only no one will probably notice it and Duncan, for all of his achievements, won’t care the least bit. As great as he was, you can count on one hand the number of athletes in any sport who is averse to tooting his own horn like Duncan. That in itself is an achievement considering how social media has enraptured the world to the point that headlines are written on what some athlete says on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.
Fans and media talking heads will always gravitate towards these players because, for better or worse, they make for interesting commentary. LeBron James posts a workout video in Miami with Dwyane Wade and everyone immediately loses their shit. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook growl their way through a press conference and videos reach 1 million views faster than Dion Waiters can inbound the ball. And let’s not even get started on players who have embraced their so-called “brands” more than their actual careers. That’s on them.
On the flip side, Tim Duncan never cared about your commentary. He only cared about his definition of what his brand is.
His kind of brand involves humbly accepting the responsibility as a franchise player from a Hall of Fame teammate who himself was only two years removed from his own MVP season. His kind of brand involves cultivating an environment that allowed a French point guard and an Argentine swingman to establish Hall of Fame careers of their own. His kind of brand involves embracing a philosophy that allowed his coach to build a program that has seamlessly transitioned from one era to another without any egos getting trampled on along the way.
That’s Tim Duncan’s brand of greatness and the results speak for themselves.
So as we prepare for a Western Conference Finals that could break all sorts of scoring records, let’s take a step back and appreciate a 40-year-old man who may or may not have played his last NBA game. He’s not going to do any retirement tours. He’s not going to publish a letter on Sports Illustrated. We’ll know that Tim Duncan is retired when he’s not on the Spurs lineup next season.
In a career that will likely never get its due, it’s only fitting that Tim Duncan’s style of retirement is an “oh, by the way…”
The kind that pretty much defines what it means to be a professional basketball player.
Photo from the San Antonio Spurs' Facebook page