In 1997, the San Antonio Spurs won the NBA draft lottery when a few ping pong balls bounced their way. They drafted Tim Duncan, the power forward out of Wake Forest University, first overall. Ever since, he’s been the face of the Spurs, building a legacy on and off the court.
I moved to San Antonio in 2003, when I was two years old, and the first connection I made in this city was with the Spurs. In my life, I’ve never known the team without Duncan. He’s been a staple in the everyday lives of Spurs fans, the ultimate model of consistency and loyalty, something that will never be forgotten in San Antonio.
For 19 years, the city had a legend to call its own, and now, it’s time to say goodbye to our Timmy, who announced yesterday that he is retiring.
San Antonio and the Spurs have a special connection. Unlike most other metropolitan U.S. cities, San Antonio’s only major professional sports team is the Spurs, and the love this city has for its Spurs is one of a kind. Sure, there’s the Riverwalk and the Alamo, but there’s nothing San Antonio loves more than its Spurs. The team is the beating heart of the city, and the reason the connection between the Spurs and the city is so strong is because of people like Tim Duncan. He has been the perfect symbol for San Antonio: quiet, humble, and championship caliber.
Duncan will be a Hall of Famer. With him on the team, the Spurs never missed the playoffs or had a losing season. He won five championships, two MVP awards, and three Finals MVPs. Duncan was a 15-time All-Star, won the third most games all-time (1,001), and ranked 14th in NBA history in scoring. But it’s who he is as a person, not just a player, that has made him so beloved here in San Antonio.
Duncan, whose nickname is the Big Fundamental, never brought unnecessary attention upon himself. He was known for dressing casually for even the biggest events, while other stars wore flashy, eye-catching new styles. The media knew him as a quiet figure, never one to look for more camera time. Duncan was a player fans could relate to and look up to.
Duncan played for Coach Gregg Popovich his entire 19-year career. Neither Duncan nor Popovich are your typical celebrities. They try to avoid the media and downplay their accomplishments, but they deserve the highest of praise. Popovich and Duncan combined for the most wins ever for a player-coach duo and won five championships together.
In his time with the Spurs, Duncan joined teammates Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker to form the Big 3. Throughout the years, all three had opportunities to leave, but Duncan repeatedly took less money in order to keep the Big 3 together, something that so rarely happens in the money-driven NBA. Together, Tim, Tony, and Manu, as they were known here, won 126 playoff games and 575 regular season games, both of which are NBA records for a trio.
Even in announcing his retirement, Duncan showed his typical, under-the-radar nature. He could’ve said that he was retiring after one more season, setting himself up for a farewell tour full of gifts. It certainly would’ve been well-deserved, but Duncan was never one to be the center of attention. Instead, on a Monday morning in July, he quietly walked off into the sunset.
As a city, we now get to say thank you. Thank you for never leaving, thank you for energizing this city, and thank you for always being the modest superstar we desired.
While the Spurs continue to look good on the court, things will never be the same without Duncan setting up in the post for his signature bank shot.
Photographs: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images (celebration); Craig Jones/Allsport (draft)