Tim Duncan was great, but how great?
The Open Field Roundtable
Tim Duncan has retired. He had an insanely successful career, starting for a championship team in three different decades. He won five rings overall, was a two-time NBA MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP, NBA Rookie of the Year, a 15-time All-Star, and was selected for the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams in each of his first 13 seasons. Not too shabby. But where does he rank all time? Where will he fall in the list of all-time greats when a descendant of Bill Simmons writes The Book of Basketball 5? The Open Field writers have some thoughts.
Michael H: I’m generally not a fan of best ever lists and top tens and the like due to the naturally subjective nature of things like that. Having said that, Tim Duncan should sit comfortably within the Top Ten NBA Players Ever forever. (For a really good reaction to Timmy’s retirement, check out Shea Serrano’s first piece for The Ringer; he’s back baby!) Duncan was stoic, matter-of-fact, and seemingly humorless, but he got shit done. He won championships, perfected the lost art of the bank shot, and never committed a foul – at least according to him. Besides his upper echelon basketball talent, my favorite thing about Timmy was every one of his reactions to being called for a foul. He would immediately turn into a live human version of the shrug emotion. Every. Single. Time. Congrats on a phenomenal career, Tim. Enjoy staring emotion-free into the middle distance for the rest of your life.
Jake : I’m not much for the NBA save sheer entertainment value (keep swearing in real time, D’angelo, I love you so much) so an uber fundamental guy like Duncan without much of a media presence off the court wasn’t really up my alley – and I’d think you can make the same case about the rest of this spurs core, which is now…much different. That said – its never been in doubt how impressive of a figure Popovich is – and any old white dude who gives polite enough to get fined one word answer interviews continually in the playoffs has got to be respected in the players he chooses to build a franchise around. In this case, Duncan. I guess this is really 2016 of me, but as Michael mentioned above – Shea Serrano loves The Spurs and by association – ‘ol loose shirt Duncan. The farewell piece was lovely, and I feel for Shea like I feel for a friend who’s just lost the worlds’ greatest dog, so that’s my Monday.
Matt: I’m going to take Michael’s top 10 statement and go a little further, claiming TD to be a top 5 player of all time. He sits behind MJ, Kareem, Wilt the Stilt and Lebron for me. Why does he leapfrog guys like Larry Legend, Kobe, Oscar and Magic? The numbers are just off the charts.. Some other players match those numbers in a few areas, but none have a better collective resume than Timmy. His off the court reputation is shining. We never heard any negative stories about him. In fact, we often do not hear about the wonderful things he has done for his community either. In a sport which is intertwined with pop culture, Timmy somehow managed to simply play the game he loved, and nothing else. No major movie roles or failed rap careers. For me, TD is cemented as a top 5 player of all time. But can you imagine what conversation we’d be having if he had Magic’s personality?! Springfield is going to gain a guy who is the skeleton of the sport. Fundamentals. Defense. Coachability. Some players keep their hands up after a pretty three. Tim kept both up to block a slashing two guard. If you like players who never lose sight of their passion and place their sport over all of the auxiliary social benefits, Tim is your man. When the game inevitably shifts back towards dominant big men, tapes of Duncan will be the first thing studied. So, let’s just take a bow and thank the gods above Mr. Duncan decided to pick basketball over swimming.
Shaun: It is difficult to say “so long” to one half of probably the greatest player/coach duo in sports history at the moment. No, not Brady/Belichick. This has been 19 years of sustained excellence that is unrivaled. The 5 championships, in a vacuum, might not blow away anyone that roots for the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, or Robert Horry, but in just two decades, Duncan worked to bring an otherwise tiny-market team with little following outside of a 100-mile radius in Southwest Texas to a quiet juggernaut that has competed for a championship for pretty much my entire life. And when they have won, it has been with completely different teams:
1998-99: David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Sean Ellliott, Mario Elie, Avery Johnson
2002-03: David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Stephen Jackson, Bruce Bowen, Tony Parker
2004-05: Nazr Mohammed, Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker
2006-07: Francisco Elson, Tim Duncan, Bruce Bowen, Michael Finley, Tony Parker
2012-13: Tiago Splitter, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Tony Parker
Aside from Tony Parker (and Ginobili usually off the bench), this franchise has changed identities, changed play-styles – from the “Twin Towers” to small ball and 3-pointers – and anything else you can think of. Throughout it all, though, there were two constants. Even more so than Kobe Bryant, no one has had a stranglehold on the Western Conference in the last two decades like Tim Duncan has. The entire landscape of the league shifts as one of the best to ever do it moves on.
Mikey: The 2016/17 Warriors just claimed their first victim. Tim Duncan’s retirement means that San Antonio will open their season without the lanky Power Forward for the first time in nearly two decades. Shaun spoke to a change in identity for the teams Timmy has been a part of before, but the next chapter for the Spurs will be to cope with life after the cornerstone of their organization.
He did it quietly, without a farewell tour, and without headlines. Tim Duncan was pure in that he never felt larger than the collective pieces, never felt entitled to anything more than the opportunity he was given. Does this look like the outfit of an ego-centric superstar?
Or does it look more like the goofy, fun-loving, ultra-competitive superstar that has been the definition of consistency since his league introduction in 1997? I see a hero, and someone that will only truly be appreciated after we all take a step back and judge the entirety of his career as a whole. I will miss Timmy, I will miss my brother mocking his free-throw routine, I will miss his elbow extended bank jump shot, and I will miss his outfits.
Most of all, I will miss the gif that brings me a smile each and every time I use it. It will no longer be complete without Tim. RIP this gif, and congratulations to Tim Duncan. A Top 7 NBA player of all time.
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