It’s so rare that you find someone with a demeanor so calm and collected command that much respect, exude that much leadership and unquestionably rise to one of the best players in NBA history.
That was Tim Duncan in a nutshell. As great as he was a player, he was seen by his peers as an even greater teammate and person. What Duncan represents, along with the era he represented, is almost nonexistent today. And, here’s why:
What really made Duncan’s era special, compared to today, were the rivalries. And, as a Mavs fan, Spurs-Mavs topped the list.
It was a true rivalry in every sense of the word. Both teams met a lot, both teams each won a lot and there were epic, storybook encounters throughout. Duncan and Dirk squared off six times in the playoffs, with Duncan winning 18 games to Dirk’s 15. The rivalry featured very talented and deep teams, but what will be most remembered are these two mild mannered, all-time great power forwards that are champions and ambassadors of the game.
The Big Fundamental
What’s really missing from today’s game that Duncan, Shaq, Hakeem Olajuwon and many of the other historically great big men of the past had is post play. Duncan had the infamous bank shot, while Dirk had the one-legged fadeaway, and both brought out their bag of tricks in the post now and then to get easy buckets.
Post play is a glaring void in today’s game, and it’s unfathomable to me as an NBA fan. I argue that it’s not only pathetic, but also a contribution to the disparity of the league. It’s not being taught at a young age, with young players of all sizes falling in love with what they see on TV and jacking up 3s as a result. I have this discussion with friends a lot … is the game more exciting with so many 3’s taken and less post play, and more importantly, should the strategy be to take a ton of 3s every game because of the inherent value of the 3-pointer?
I say emphatically NO. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a long 3-ball, but I can’t justify a 3 on 1 fast break ending in anything but a layup, unless you badly need a 3. I also can’t justify how players are so much bigger and stronger today and have such awful fundamentals when it comes to post play. Sometimes, post play is nonexistent, and that’s baffling!
How is a 3-ball smarter than an easy bucket/layup, especially for a big guy? And, it’s not even exclusive to big guys! Guards like Jason Kidd, Sam Cassell, Gary Payton, and greats Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson, all thrived in the post. But, while Duncan and Kevin Garnett are at or near retirement and represent the last line of great post-playing big men from their era, there is hope. Guys like DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor all have strong post games.
Let’s teach these talented kids better fundamentals and post play, and encourage them to practice that day in and day out. I strongly believe it can set them apart from their peers, improve the quality of the game and add some parity as well. Maybe Duncan will become a coach and instill that. If anyone knows about fundamentals, post play and leadership, it’s him.
Going Out Tim Duncan Style
You can’t fault Kobe Bryant for going out the way he did. He was always all about the spotlight, and gave the league and its fans something to get excited for one last time.
But, Duncan was a different kind of player and person. He was all about going under the radar, no trash talk and no media-driven swan song. His retirement decision resembled the way his whole career played out: classy, methodical and calculated.
Tim Duncan was greater than the game, and if some of today’s players acted more like him and learned from all he offered, the game would be in a better place.