By Stephen A. Crockett Jr., The Root
On Monday, Tim Duncan ended his career much like the way he played: quietly. He didn’t announce that he was leaving at the top of the season so he could go on an NBA farewell tour like Kobe Bryant did, but such is life for the man who made his living as one of the most fundamentally sound big men to ever play the game.
In short, Tim Duncan might have been the greatest pumpkin spice latte the NBA has ever seen. He was the Gap of the NBA. Or Cinnabon. He was the Toyota Camry of the league. He rarely broke down, he got good gas mileage and he was steady enough to get you to and from Red Lobster safely, but he was never going to get you girls.
Tim Duncan must have wanted it this way. For years, he refused to get a shape-up or a personality. Tim Duncan is the friend who reminds you it’s getting late or that we need to leave the party to study. It’s a safe bet that Tim Duncan enjoys a good non-alcoholic beer from time to time.
In a league with nicknames like “Black Mamba,” Tim Duncan was the “Big Fundamental.”
When I was little, I used to get geeked out whenever a Charlie Brown special would come on late. Mostly because I got to stay up past my bedtime to watch it and because late-night cartoons always felt seedy, like I was doing something wrong. But whenever Charlie Brown was over, I always felt sad. Charlie Brown was easily the most depressive, morose s–t I’ve ever watched. I mean, think about it, it was a cartoon set to jazz music. That’s Tim Duncan’s game. For 19 years, we watched him pump fake and basic dribble his way into the record books. Doesn’t mean he wasn’t great at it, but when it came to flash, Tim Duncan was the ranch-dressing packet on the grocery-store salad.
He was a coach’s dream, though. Great passing skills and he kept the ball high on rebounds. He was never going to be the guy that drew “ohhs” and “ahhs” from the crowd, but a man who has gone 19 years without a proper shape-up isn’t thinking about crowd appreciation. Oh no, my friend, Duncan made his way into the Hall of Fame playing the game the right way, with great footwork and stellar defense.
The funny thing about Tim Duncan is that he will go down in history as the greatest power forward to ever play the game—and there is no kid out here who wishes his or her game was like Tim Duncan’s.
It’s a unique skill in this fast-paced digital age to be one of the greatest players of all time and not have any memorable play that defines one’s career. If you were making a meme of Duncan’s 19-year career, it would be him in the low post shooting a half-hook shot over a defender. Shaq once said that Tim Duncan was able to play much longer than he did because Duncan didn’t take the abuse that he did. Duncan played in the post, but didn’t pound in the post. He didn’t put his body at risk, and shot layups even when he could easily dunk.
Wait, just got a call from Karl Malone. Malone just told me that Tim Duncan was the six-pack-of-white-socks-from-Marshalls of the NBA. But it isn’t Duncan’s fault that he excelled at being the doggie-print pajama pants of the NBA. He didn’t ask for that. In fact, he didn’t ask for anything because Tim Duncan didn’t talk or emote for that matter. Think back on the times that you can remember Tim Duncan making any other face than this:
I wonder if playing 19 years in San Antonio did it to him. That place feels like it would take a toll on anyone. Never been to San Antonio, but everything about the Spurs makes me believe that San Antonio is just one endless shopping mall of khaki pants and sensible shirts. That had to be why Duncan couldn’t find a good barber to line him up nicely.
Either way, goodbye, Tim Duncan, you were amazing. And maybe the real joke is on us; all of us who love the highlights and the power dunks and shape-ups. Maybe being the Camry of the league wasn’t such a bad thing. At least the AC works.