Tim Duncan played his 19-year Hall of Fame career in the NBA with little fanfare. He exited the NBA the same way, with no pageantry befitting one of basketball’s greatest big men.
The Spurs announced Duncan’s retirement Monday morning, and Duncan didn’t provide a statement.
The 6-11 Duncan looms as a towering figure in the game – both in stature and accomplishments. Spending his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs, Duncan won five NBA championships in 19 seasons and was named MVP in 2001-02 and 2002-03 and was the Finals MVP in 1999, 2003 and 2005.
Considered one of best big men in NBA history and perhaps the greatest power forward, Duncan finished his career with:
• 26,496 points, 14th on the league’s all-time scoring list.
• 15,091 rebounds, sixth on the all-time list.
• 3,064 blocks, fifth on the all-time list.
• 1,392 games, seventh on the all-time list.
He won his first title in 1999, his second NBA season, pairing up with David Robinson. He won his last title in 15 seasons later in 2014 with Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. Parker and Duncan won four titles together, and Ginobili was part of three titles with Duncan. He won titles in three different decades, too.
“Tim Duncan is one of the most dominant players in NBA history,” NBAcommissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “His devotion to excellence and mastery of the game led to five NBA championships, two regular-season MVP awards and a place among the all-time greats, while his understated selflessness made him the ultimate teammate. For two decades Tim represented the Spurs, the city of San Antonio and the league with passion and class. All of us in the NBA family thank him for his profound impact on the game.”
Following San Antonio’s championship in 2014, Duncan tried to put in perspective what it meant to join a select group with five rings.
“It’s amazing to think about having done this five times,” he told reporters. “The kind of company I’m in, the people who have had such amazing careers and having had the ability to have one, and for the stretch, and the span between them, to still be in a situation where we can win or I can win another championship is just an amazing blessing, and it’s not taken lightly.
“I’m blessed to be in the position that I can sit here and be asked that question and to be on a championship team and to even think about what that means. I can’t explain. It’s amazing to be a part of this for so long.”
San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich was the coach for all five championship teams and has made it clear his success as a coach is directly related to Duncan.
“He feels a responsibility to his teammates,” Popovich told reporters at the start of the 2014 Finals. “He enjoys them. He wants to hang around as long as he can while he’s useful and while he’s having an impact on the game. He takes care of his body; he works out all summer long with a variety of different things, boxing, swimming. He’s very careful about what he puts in his body, so he does everything he can maintain a level of play.
“At some point that will stop. It will probably be the third quarter of some game on the road some year, and he’ll feel like he’s not as significant and he’ll walk into the locker room.”
It wasn’t the third quarter of a road game. Duncan, who went about his business quietly and with no need to self-promote, walked away following his 19th season in which the Spurs won a franchise-record 67 games but were eliminated from the playoffs by Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals.
“More than anything, he creates a welcoming environment,” Popovich said. “He doesn’t really judge people much. He allows them to become successful because he’s always somebody who is going to be supportive rather than critical. Now, he’s a fierce competitor, and he wants to have guys around him that are like‑minded, but he really gives them room to flourish.
“The other part is he’s such an unselfish player, he makes players better. He allows them to be better players because of his understanding of spatial relationships on the floor and time and score in a game, and he brings it every day. Practice, he’s there early and late, even at this age, so it sets quite an example, certainly makes my job easier.”
Duncan helped Robinson, Sean Elliott, Steve Smith, Danny Ferry, Avery Johnson win titles, and he bridged generations, also helping Leonard, Danny Green and Patty Millswin a championship.
Consider this: When Danny Ferry played his first NBA game in 1990, Leonard hadn’t been born. Duncan played through eras in which big men dominated and in which big men had to play different roles because spacing the floor, opening the paint, creating driving lanes and putting shooters at the three-point line prevailed stylistically.
For his career, he averaged 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, three assists and 2.2 blocks and shot 50.6% from the field. In 251 playoff games, Duncan averaged 20.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, three assists and 2.3 blocks and shot 50.1% from the field.
He was a model of consistency and remarkably reliable, playing 1,392 of 1,510 possible regular-season games. Of those games he played in, he won 1,001 times – a winning percentage of .719.
Duncan may have been a team-first unselfish player, but he was also a dominant force. In his first MVP season, he put up 25.5 points and 12.7 rebounds per game, and in his second MVP season, he went for 23.3 points and 12.9 per game. When the Spurs wanted a bucket, they want to Duncan in the low post, and he had a power game (he had that one-handed dunk) combined with finesse (he knew how to use the backboard).
Right after the Spurs defeated Miami for the championship in 2014, a reporter asked Duncan if that was his sweetest title. The season before, the Spurs were 30 seconds from eliminating the Heat in six games. But Miami made an incredible comeback, forced Game 7 and defeated San Antonio for the title.
“For whatever reason, it is sweeter than any other,” Duncan said. “Whether it be because of the timeframe, because I’m coming towards the end of my career, because I can have these two here (children Sydney and Draven) and really remember it and enjoy the experience, all of those things make it that much more special.”
Before that 2014 Finals began, Charles Barkley suggested Duncan would retire if the Spurs won the title. Duncan, who ended up playing two more seasons, said, “It will happen when it happens. I’ll feel it and I’ll know it and I’ll call it a day.”