As the Western Conference and Eastern Conference Finals get under the way, people are forgetting about what Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs got accomplished this season.
Ironic, as Duncan is many times forgotten in talks about the best player of the post Michael Jordan era.
If you look at things closely, Tim Duncan was the best player since Michael Jordan retired and when I say retired, I mean the real one of the three, the retirement in 1998. Duncan may have played his last game last Thursday night, as his San Antonio Spurs were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games. The two stars of the Thunder (Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook) were both 11 years old when Duncan won his first of five titles in 1999. Duncan throughout his career was more than just about stats, but nevertheless I will go through them. Duncan is 14th all time in scoring (26,496), 6th in rebounds (15,091) and 5th in blocks (3,020).
Now one may read those stats and think, they’re pretty good, but the stats of the best player since M.J.? Kobe Bryant for example is third all time in scoring (ahead of Michael Jordan), Shaquille O’Neal is 6th, Dirk Nowitzki is 5th. Also Lebron James (who does not have all-time career statistics as of yet) has 4 M.V.P.’s, two more than Duncan’s career total.
So again, why should the last 18 years be considered Duncan’s era?
While it is true the other players I have mentioned have more sizzle than the “Big Fundamental” they have also added tremendous chaos and drama.
Kobe Bryant was accused of rape in 2003, broke apart the team in 2004 and demanded to be traded in 2007. I guess scoring 81 points in a game makes people forget home much of an annoyance Bryant was in his hall-of-fame career. Kobe’s 25 million dollar salary this season, made him the highest paid player in the league, despite the fact he statistically had one of the worst seasons in NBA history.
Shaq is certainly not with his issues. How many all-time great players play with six different teams? The reason why Shaq moved around so much, is because he didn’t move around in practice or off season workouts. In 2003, when Shaq elected to miss part of the season due to toe surgery he was asked why he did not have his surgery in the off-season. He said “I got hurt on company time, I’ll heal on company time.”
Tim Duncan has only played with one team in his career, only flirting with free agency once in 2000. If Duncan did go to the Orlando Magic that summer, he most likely would have not had a three hour television special known as the decision. Lebron James’ diva ways don’t include just “The Decision” they including running coach David Blatt out of town, choking in clutch situations (He is 2-6 in the NBA Finals compared to 5-1 for Duncan) as well as dictating personal decisions.
Duncan never had any drama. He always showed up to work as a professional, never demanded to be traded, never put his team in a hostage situation, never caused a feud with one of his teammates or forgot to show up to a playoff game. In addition to winning two M.V.P.’s, Duncan was selected to 15 all-star games and was considered one of the NBA’s best defenders. 8 times he made it to the NBA’s all-defense first team and 7 times he made it to the second team.
Although Duncan has been among the league leaders in most stats, here is a stat he has never lead the league in..salary. In fact this season Duncan “only made” 5.25 million dollars, which was ranked 6th on his own team. While Bryant’s 25 million dollar salary held the Lakers hostage from getting better players (the Lakers were 17-65 this season, worst in the Western Conference) the Spurs won 67 games this season.
While Shaq and others left their teams for more money, Duncan played his whole career in San Antonio and continually gave his team hometown discounts. As a result, they were able to add and keep players such as Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawi Leonard and others which helped Duncan and the Spurs win five titles.
Believe it or not I saw Tim Duncan’s first playoff game. It was April 23rd, 1998 and as a rookie Duncan lead all scorers with 32 points on 12-21 shooting in the 102-96 victory over my Phoenix Suns. Here’s the strangest part of the game. Duncan scored his points in such a quiet way, I didn’t realize how dominant he was until I looked up at the scoreboard towards the end of the game.
Were there more exciting players? Sure. More flashy, more box office, absolutely. But out of all the players who played since Michael Jordan’s real retirement, who would you draft first? That answer tells you all you need to know.
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