“Death, taxes and Tim Duncan” to my knowledge was never a bumper sticker or t-shirt in Texas, but 1,392 games later Tim Duncan has called it a career and finally death and taxes will need a new running mate. The stalwart anchor of the San Antonio Spurs announced Monday morning via, of course, a press release that he would not be returning for a 20th season in the NBA. Duncan leaves the league with five NBA titles, three NBA Finals MVPs, two NBA MVP trophies, 15 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA team nods, 15 NBA All-Defense appearances, a Rookie of the Year award, and is coming off a season that saw the Spurs win a franchise record 67 games before being eliminated in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs at the hands of Oklahoma City.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) July 11, 2016
In a season that has already seen the retirement of Kobe Bryant, it’s only fitting that Duncan would retire in the same season sans the fanfare and “farewell tour” that dominated the Lakers’ season during Bryant’s last year. The duo of Bryant and Duncan will always be remembered not for an outright rivalry, the nature of Kobe being a shooting guard and Duncan being a power forward/center kept that angle at bay; but the Spurs and Lakers throughout the dueling careers of both players were continually chasing one another through the upper echelon of the West’s standings before locking horns in the playoffs season in and season out. While Bryant’s showmanship and scoring acumen garnered the spotlight and the front page of the sports section, Duncan’s routinely dominant stat lines and suffocating defense were left there in the weeds. Weeds or not, Duncan’s numbers suggest that he, and not Kobe and not LeBron (yet) will go down as the greatest post-Michael Jordan player and Duncan should widely be considered as the greatest power forward (if not center because Shaq) of the modern era. The debate will rage between Shaq and Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabar for the title of greatest modern era “big”, but suffice it to say that Duncan’s reign is the most monolithic and utterly complete run a big has had in our lifetimes. Shaq was the irresistible force on the court, but he was continually slowed and pestered by “the Big Fundamental” when the two met on the court. Countless forwards and centers came and went through the turnstile that the NBA can be, but there was always Duncan, looming there against the horizon with his slouched stance and imploring eyes, daring you to approach him, to tangle with his footwork and knack for the game.
For the San Antonio Spurs the show will go on. Just as Duncan bridged the David Robinson-led teams of the 1990s into the “Big Three” era of Duncan, Ginobili and Parker in the 2000s and then later further connecting the Silver and Black generations with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge as the focal points and with Duncan himself as an elder statesman, the Spurs franchise now looks forward without the face of their franchise for the past two decades. Two decades with the precision, night in and night out on the hardwood, of an automaton solely built by Gregg Popovich to dominate on the basketball court. Duncan’s Sphinx-like presence in the NBA, his khaki color scheme, his wily and occasional grins, all of it gone with the silence and stoicism of his career. There won’t be anyone with Duncan’s personality for a long, long time, but the Spurs and the NBA are in good hands.
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