Harris: Still time to appreciate Duncan
TribLIVE Sports Videos
All the talk in the NBA playoffs this year surrounds immensely popular LeBron James of the Miami Heat carrying the league on his shoulders while selling shoes, sports drinks and cell phones during his pursuit of a second championship.
All the while, another unique but much-less-heralded player is vying for his fifth title. Say hello to San Antonio's Tim Duncan, a 10-time All-NBA selection who needs to win one more championship to equal Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers for most titles among active players.
For those who pay attention to the NBA only during the playoffs, this may be one of your last chances to soak up everything Duncan is about.
When Duncan plays, it's like watching a player from a different era. Want to know how the NBA looked 20 or 30 years ago? Watch Duncan.
If outgoing commissioner David Stern had made Duncan a centerpiece of his marketing strategy when Duncan was terrorizing opponents during his prime, the league would be a better place.
Like Duncan, centers would enter the league with at least a rudimentary understanding of how to play with their back to the basket, and they would have been taught how to bank the ball against the backboard.
If the NBA had made Duncan a role model for its players, maybe we wouldn't be subjected to 7-footers dribbling between their legs at the top of the key — when they aren't hoisting 3-point shots.
Duncan represents everything the NBA used to stand for. He helps basketball fans remember why they once loved the game.
The consensus No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft out of Wake Forest, Duncan would have been the first player selected in the 1995 and '96 drafts had he opted to leave college early, said former Lakers executive Jerry West.
Yet Duncan remained in college his final two years because of a vow he made to his mother, who died of breast cancer when he was in ninth grade. Duncan promised he would graduate from college, a far different path from the one taken by top draft picks nearly two decades later. Players now eagerly follow the one-and-done route, detouring for the NBA after only one year in college, ready or not.
“Timmy and I were driving to the airport to Los Angeles where he was going to receive the Wooden Award for the best player in college basketball,” Maui Invitational chairman Dave Odom, who recruited Duncan to Wake Forest and molded him into a future Hall of Famer, recalled of a conversation the pair had in 1997. “I told him, ‘People are going to want to know why you decided to stay at Wake Forest and turned down enough money to sustain your family for the rest of their lives.' He said, ‘Coach, I have always felt, why should I do today what I'll be better prepared to do a year from now?'
“That was so profound,” said Odom, who coached Duncan all four years at Wake Forest. “I've never forgotten it.”
Duncan doesn't sell as many shoes as James, but he isn't hurting financially with more than $200 million in contract earnings. And James will have to play a long time to catch up to Duncan, who led San Antonio to four titles from 1998-2007.
Duncan has played 16 seasons, averaging 20.2 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game — and 22.3 points, 12.1 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the postseason.
His play has risen spectacularly this postseason. He led San Antonio in both overtime wins over Memphis in the Western Conference finals, scoring six points in the first overtime and seven points in the second overtime of a game in which all five starters were benched in the first quarter for poor play.
In that game, Duncan passed Wilt Chamberlain for second place in NBA playoff career double-doubles with 144.
“When you coach a player like Timmy, you teach him a lot, but you learn from him, too,” said Navy assistant Ernie Nestor, a member of Odom's staff at Wake Forest. “Tim has great competitive composure. He's had that approach since he was a freshman in college.”
When Duncan was asked recently what continues to drive him at age 37, he didn't say money, endorsements or solidifying himself as the greatest power forward of all time.
Winning another championship is his motivation.
“Shaquille O'Neal notwithstanding, big guys don't sell shoes. Tim doesn't want to do those things. He's all about winning,” Odom said. “He understands you make enough money to last a lifetime. Trying to get commercials to make a little more money means nothing to him.”
The NBA needs more Tim Duncans to connect its glorious past with the present. Better to appreciate Duncan now while there's still time.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Tire comes off, hits oncoming car, kills 1 on Route 28
- 6 shot at Clairton speakeasy; police seek suspects
- Play of nose tackles could have impact on Steelers’ stretch run
- WPIAL’s Top 10 football champions of all time
- Plum man killed in Saltsburg Road rollover
- Starkey: Pens move on with, without Dupuis
- School bus accident in Pleasant Hills sends 4 to the hospital
- Penn State defense proves among best in school history
- Philadelphia hospital evaluating patient for Ebola
- New assistant Agnew has Pens’ PK, defense among league’s best
- Westmoreland County sheriff won’t alter staffing as cash runs out