Tim Duncan might have recently pulled off the most Tim Duncan-y thing ever: he retired with barely anyone noticing. Many speculated that this might be Duncan’s final year. In fact, there was some surprise that he didn’t retire after his team’s 2014 NBA championship, going out on top. Duncan returned, but gave no indication this would be his last year before announcing quietly earlier this year that he had played his final game.
In thinking about Duncan’s retirement, you can’t help but compare him to Kobe Bryant. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a better player to consider Duncan’s contemporary than Kobe: they entered the league one year apart, played their first All-Star Game together in 1998 (and would go on to play on fourteen more All-Star teams together), each won five championships, and both retired following the 2015-2016 season. When you discuss two players being of the same generation, you really can’t find a better example than Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. At least not among players who will really matter in the history of basketball.
There will be some argument about who was better. But in my mind, there is no comparison: Tim Duncan was, hands down, the best player of his generation and thoroughly trumps Kobe Bryant in all the ways that matter. In fact, I find that fact so obvious that I’m not going to bother listing all of the stats and facts that prove it (though feel free to argue this in the comments!). What stands out to me is how each player ended their career, which really couldn’t be more different. Bryant embarked on a season-long retirement tour, putting up god-awful stats on a miserable team. Then, he punctuated that by shooting 22-50 (including 6-21 from 3) en route to scoring 60 points in a meaningless game. Duncan, by contrast, made a quiet announcement, after his team won more games in a single season than they ever had before1, while he anchored one of the greatest defensive teams of all time. Meanwhile, Duncan made no attempt to overshadow one of the most important NBA Finals series ever.
If Kobe Bryant’s retirement was an ill-fated, spinning-through-traffic, circus shot while his wide-open teammates looked on, Duncan’s was a simple bank shot from the elbow after a perfectly executed sideline out-of-bounds play.
Tim Duncan was the greatest power forward of all time. He was the greatest player of his generation. The only reason I won’t say definitively that he was the greatest player of the last 20 years is because LeBron James’s career isn’t over yet. He was exactly what you would want in a teammate and a player: a humble, hardworking leader who put team success above all else. In many ways, many failed to recognize his greatness because his game lacked pizzazz and wow. Footwork, bank shots, and post defense don’t put many butts in the seats. But Tim Duncan will be missed. If you are an NBA fan who wasn’t paying attention to what he accomplished the past 19 years, well, I don’t know if you can really call yourself an NBA fan. Even if you do, you really missed something. Something we, sadly, won’t be seeing again. At least not from the Big Fundamental.
Image by Keith Allison
- tying the mark for seventh most in NBA history