Celtics

Celtics

BOSTON -- We all knew this day was going to come sooner or later. 
 
The day when Tim Duncan, one of the most fundamentally sound players the NBA has ever known, would call it quits and retire with the San Antonio Spurs. 
 
No farewell tour, a la Kobe Bryant.  Just a simple, 540-word statement released by the Spurs which -- surprise, surprise -- did not contain a single quote from Duncan. 
 
It was fitting that the statement was essentially a rundown of what he has done in the league, an appropriate farewell for a player who so often let his game speak for itself. 
 
We have seen our share of stars come and go recently, but few did so with as little fanfare as Duncan. 
 
You hear coaches all the time try and convince players to put the team’s agenda ahead of their own, but few embodied that principle as well as Duncan. 
 
And around these parts, seeing Duncan waltz into the sunset of his career has a bittersweet tinge to it. 
 
When Duncan was selected with the top pick in 1997, the Boston Celtics had the best chance to draft him of any team, which would have ushered in another decade (or two) of dominance by the Celtics. 
 
But the ping-pong gods had other plans for Duncan and the Celtics, sending them in polar opposite directions. Duncan wound up in San Antonio and went on to become a five-time NBA champion. He helped the Spurs become the model against which other franchises measure themselves. 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics suffered through too many lean years to recount, though they eventually did return to glory during the Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen days . . . which included Banner 17 in 2008. 
 
But who knows how many titles Boston would have won with Duncan in green?
 
It's the "what-if . . . " game Celtics fans just couldn’t resist playing for the past 19 years as Duncan went on to become one of the greatest -- if not the greatest -- power forward of his generation and certainly on the short list of the all-time greatest ever. 
 
Yet despite his success over such a long period of time, he didn’t draw the usual praise given to standout players. But, then again, Duncan established early on that he wasn’t your typical NBA player . . . and not just because he was a big Dungeons and Dragon fan as well as a collector of knives.
 
He didn’t have an explosive first step to the basket, or play well above the rim, or do many of the things that, in today’s game, are valued -- seemingly -- above what really counts: Winning. 
 
Duncan was the guy talked about at the end of the highlights. "Great dunk by Manu Ginobili! . . . Tony Parker with the sweet crossover and floater in the lane! . . . Tim Duncan led all scorers with 28 points, 13 rebounds."
 
The sexiest part of his game was a bank shot that he could hit from seemingly any spot on the floor, a shot that you seldom saw players work on until Duncan came along. 
 
There’s irony that bank shots are usually seen as shots that go in by luck. Not so when they leave the fingertips of Duncan. 
 
Because with this guy, there's no such thing as luck. 
 
As someone who covered the Atlantic Coast Conference when Duncan was at Wake Forest, I saw firsthand how special a talent he was -- and how frustrating he was for opponents. 
 
Players would try and rough him up. It didn’t work. 
 
Some teams would try to put players with more athleticism on him. Duncan would light them up too, courtesy of his basketball smarts and ability to adapt his game to whatever was needed to be successful. 
 
No matter what teams threw his way, Duncan had a counter for it. 
 
The guy just never seemed to get rattled, regardless of the game, regardless of the moment, regardless of the importance.
 
And to think, then-Wake Forest coach Dave Odom had given serious thoughts to redshirting Duncan during his freshman year because the Demon Deacons were set to sign Makhtar N’Diaye, whom Odom discovered in a tournament in France. 
 
However, the NCAA ruled Wake Forest had committed minor recruiting violations, which included the hiring of N’Diaye’s interpreter, and thus didn't allow N’Diaye to enroll at Wake Forest.
 
Without that ruling, who knows what might have become of Duncan’s illustrious pro career? 
 
Even in the afterglow of what has been a basketball lifetime of greatness, Duncan so often deflected the attention and focus at that time on to his teammates, the front office, fans, anyone but himself. 
 
That’s just Timmy being Timmy. 
 
A Hall of Fame player who played the game with a Hall of Fame level of humility that this league may never see again.
 
I was there in Greensboro, N.C., in 1997 when the Demon Deacons lost in the ACC Tournament to eventual champion North Carolina, even though Duncan absolutely ate Serge Zwikker alive most of the game. 
 
And when the final horn sounded, Duncan shook a few hands and walked away having left an indelible impression on all who saw him play that day. 
 
It was the final game he would play for Wake Forest. He finishing his college career with 1,570 rebounds, which is a conference record that still stands to this day. After that game, most of us used it as a time to reflect on Duncan’s collegiate greatness, knowing there was so much more left for him to accomplish at the pro level. 
 
Today is different. 
 
There is no next level of basketball success for Duncan to aspire to. 
 
He has done all that he can do at the highest of levels, leaving behind a benchmark for success that the greats that come after him will be measured against. 
 
There will never be another Tim Duncan. 
 
Never.