The 2012 NBA Playoffs have been about superstars and storylines.
Kevin Durant going for his first title. Kobe looking to tie Michael Jordan with six (and failing). LeBron James and Dwyane Wade looking like they’d get upset in the second round, and now looking like the unstoppable force we thought they’d be when they first teamed up. Derrick Rose blowing out his ACL, and in the process, the Chicago Bulls having a chance to make the finals. The Boston Celtics big three’s probable final opportunity at another ring.
And, until recently, no one was talking about the superstar quietly going for his fifth ring. The superstar that may go down as the best player at his position, and one of the greatest overall players ever. The superstar that’s leading a contender filled with role players and second round picks.
We appreciate Kobe and marvel at LeBron. We’re in awe of Wade and cheer on Durant.
But where’s the love for Tim Duncan?
He’s consistent. Even though his numbers dipped a bit this year, if he had played typical starter’s minutes, he’d average right around 20 points and 11 rebounds a game…which are the numbers he’s managed to produce his entire career.
He’s accomplished. Along with his four NBA Championships, he’s earned 13 All-NBA team, All-Defensive team, and All-Star appearances; three NBA Finals MVPs; two regular season MVPs; and the Rookie of the Year. His team is now two wins away from a fifth NBA Finals appearance.
Duncan is also educated. Before there was a debate on whether kids should go to school for one year, two years, or not go to school at all, Duncan was playing four years at Wake Forest and earning a degree in psychology.
He’s dignified. We never hear Duncan’s name for any off-the-court behavior. He’s also never getting suspended or being quoted in a story trashing a fellow teammate, player, coach or general manager.
He’s fundamentally sound. Duncan can do everything, from playing spectacular defense, to shooting picture-perfect jump shots off the backboard, to using an array of post moves to beat opponents. Not many players have ever been able to do as much as he does on the basketball court.
And yet with all that he brings, he’s also virtually anonymous. He’s not a pitchman, and makes little in endorsements (which is in large part his choosing). He’s more efficient then flashy, making his game “boring” to some fans.
He doesn’t play for the high-profile NBA teams like the Celtics or Lakers, but instead leads the small-market San Antonio Spurs. He doesn’t give enlightening sound bites that get tweeted and discussed by talking heads.
He just goes out and plays basketball. He’s the type of role model that we should want young players to aspire to be like. The type of player that’s a leader on the floor, does everything the team needs, stays focused on getting better, and ultimately wins.
Duncan has also shown tremendous loyalty when most players are looking to jump teams whenever things get bad (see: Howard, Dwight). Other future active Hall of Famers, like Kobe, Paul Pierce and Dirk Nowitzki, have also spent their entire careers with one franchise. But Kobe has had several dust-ups with management, demanded trades, and made threats to leave. Pierce was labeled as immature early in his career, and his name still comes up in trade rumors from time to time.
Nowitzki has never been in danger of leaving the Mavericks, but it also took him 13 years to win Dallas a title. Other than briefly flirting with going to the Orlando Magic in 2000, Duncan has been nothing short of the consummate San Antonian.
As good as he’s consistently been, it’s hard to think that Duncan will play much longer. It’s been refreshing seeing Duncan play this season, and especially these last couple of months; you can tell he knows this team is close and he’s raised his game. With every baby hook, bank jumper, and blocked shot, we’re reminded that he’s a truly special player.
He’ll probably never get appreciated while he’s playing. His fundamentals, lack of engaging interviews, and desire to shy away from the spotlight will never make him a basketball fan’s favorite player.
But hopefully when we look back on his career, and the way he carried himself – both on and off the court – he’ll be remembered for what he really is.
One of the best basketball players we’ll ever see.
Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter at @StefenLovelace