Tis’ a shame that the San Antonio Spurs will not get their full due for annihilating the Miami Heat in the 2014 NBA Finals. Some are hailing the Spurs as one of the greatest teams of all-time after their victory; however, this seems to be because they beat the Miami Heat rather than a genuine response to the best performance of this current basketball era. A similar sentiment would be valid concerning Tim Duncan who is hailed as the greatest power forward of all time, but somehow his legacy is less revered than that of LeBron James.
The Big Fundamental is the only player in league history to be selected to All-NBA and All-Defensive teams in his first 13 seasons. His professional awards include Rookie of the Year, a NBA All-Star Game MVP, two NBA MVPs, three NBA Finals MVPs, and five NBA championships over 16 seasons. Here’s probably the craziest fact of all: The Spurs’ winning percentage has not dipped below .610 since Duncan was drafted by the team in 1997. Anyone with this résumé has to be considered a top-10 player of all-time.
Sports culture has become so stats-centric that we tend to underestimate the value of a guy like Tim Duncan who never cared about anything other than doing what was best for the team. Duncan has put up great numbers but never sought to do so. Compare this to James who is so worried about his overall numbers and shooting efficiency that the Miami Heat turned Chris Bosh (who averaged 24 points and 11 rebounds the season before coming to the Heat) into a three-point shooter so the King could roam free in the paint. In other words, Bosh’s greatest strength became the very thing that the Heat asked him not to do. Maybe Bosh would have done more in the 2014 Finals if the Heat pandered to someone other than James.
James gets so much credit for dragging the Cleveland Cavaliers to the 2007 NBA Finals that being swept in the series doesn’t count against James’ legacy in the eyes of many. With that in mind, does anyone remember the starting lineups for Duncan’s first two championships?
1998-99 San Antonio Spurs (includes a sweep of Los Angeles Lakers’ Shaquille O’Neal in his prime)
- C David Robinson
- PF Tim Duncan
- SF Sean Elliott
- SG Mario Elie
- PG Avery Johnson
2002-03 San Antonio Spurs (defeated 3-peat champion Lakers 4-2 in Western Conference Semifinals)
- C David Robinson
- PF Tim Duncan
- SF Bruce Bowen
- SG Stephen Jackson
- PG Tony Parker
Duncan had 37 points and 16 rebounds in the Spurs’ close-out game in the 2003 Western Conference Semifinals. Phil Jackson and the Lakers had no answer for Tim Duncan as their quest for a 4-peat came to a close. How’s that for career symmetry?
Duncan, 38 years young, remained one of the league’s best defenders in his 16th season. He is as well known for his guile as he is for his physical gifts. His post moves are compared only to the best big men of all time such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin McHale, and Hakeem Olajuwon (the only player to make David Robinson look like a complete fool on defense). Players view Duncan as the godfather for a reason.
A lack of flair and disinterest in becoming a marketing icon should not diminish our appreciation of Duncan’s accomplishments on the court. Duncan has the tangibles, intangibles, and achievements to be compared to any player to ever play the game. At present, James’ legacy does not measure up. Duncan’s legacy deserves to be compared to Michael Jordan before any active player. Unlike James, Duncan’s career is almost done and that discussion is merited because he is near the end of road. The time to anoint James might come down the pike, but let’s breathe and take everything into consideration when he’s closer to retirement. For now, take a moment to really appreciate how amazing Tim Duncan has been. Game 5 of the 2014 Finals might be the last time we ever get to see him play.
If that’s the end, I’ll take it. It’s just a shame Kobe Bryant won’t be smiling like that when he retires.
Featured image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.