By Sam Stack, Print Editor-in-Chief
//Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers was one of the greatest basketball players of all time, if not the greatest. He dominated the game for over the past eighteen years. Bryant retired from the league this season and went out on top, scoring 60 points in his final game to epitomize his career in a single performance.
However, in the midst of Kobe’s greatness as well the Golden State Warriors battling the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, another one of the game’s greats could potentially be making his final run as well. Tim Duncan from the San Antonio Spurs could very well be one of the greatest players of all time and may have made his final run.
If Duncan does retire, which he most likely will, he will retire with very high accolades. Duncan will average a double-double, with 19 points and 10 rebounds per game something most players can not claim they’ve done. Plus, Duncan has just as many rings as Bryant, 5, making him without a doubt a first ballot hall of famer.
It’s hard to compare Duncan to Kobe as they’re two completely different players with completely different backgrounds. Kobe would go out there and see who’s guarding him and immediately have an ambition to beat him one on one. Meanwhile, Duncan was the guy to bank it in after five passes and make it look casual in the process.
Kobe came to the league after dunking all over guys and being a human highlight reel in high school at Lower Merion High in Philadelphia, contrary to Duncan, who grew up in the laid back Virgin Islands and didn’t pick up basketball until later in his adolescent years.
But they both were dominant for over a decade, from 1999 to 2015, the Lakers and the Spurs won a total of 10 NBA championships combined, with either Duncan or Kobe being involved with all 10 championships.
However, in recent years the Lakers have curtailed and found themselves being one of the worst teams in the league while the Spurs are still an upper echelon team.
Duncan hasn’t necessarily said he’s going to retire, but it’s simple to assume that he is. Duncan’s numbers have been on a downward trend and this season his numbers have been the worst of his whole career. Plus the Spurs acquired LaMarcus Aldridge last offseason, so it looks like San Antonio is preparing for the future.
If Duncan does retire, it’s honestly fitting to go out in this nonchalant, under the radar fashion, because that’s the way Duncan has played his whole career. Duncan was never known as the guy to throw down a dunk and flex his muscles. Duncan was known as the big fundamental. He’d go out there and hit the bank shot consistently and play good defense, then most important of all, win.
Duncan has basically done that his whole career. After being drafted first overall in 1997, Duncan won 5 championships, 3 Finals MVP’s, and 2 regular season MVP’s, plus every single team he’s been on has had at least 50 wins.
Yet Duncan was always never really been in the headlines, it was always Kobe’s dominance, or LeBron James taking the game over. But there’s a reason it’s been that way; that’s just the type of person and player Duncan is. He’s always been zoom focused in on a goal. He doesn’t care about the antics and the endorsements. He has just always been the one who’s wanted to win.
Another part of Duncan’s quiet career has been where he’s played, San Antonio. He hasn’t been in a media center like the bright lights of Los Angeles or the big time cities back east, such as New York or Boston. No, he’s in San Antonio, a humble town with constantly loyal fans, and the Spurs, a small market franchise that’s focused on developing their talent rather than paying for it.
That atmosphere suits him, Duncan doesn’t show up to go games in flashy outfits. You’ll find Duncan walking to a game in a baggy collared shirt and jeans.
Honestly, despite his NBA height, Duncan is the type of guy who you don’t choose in a pickup basketball game because he doesn’t look incredibly intimidating. Then he goes out there and will out right dominate and his team will stay on the court for multiple games in a row.
His dominance doesn’t necessarily come from scoring a lot of points now, as Duncan only eclipsed 10 points once this entire postseason. However, through 5 games in the Western Conference Semifinals, the Spurs were plus 29 in point differential while Duncan was on the floor. His presence just equates to success.
And as Jeff Van Gundy said during Game 6 against the Thunder, “Never make the mistake of underestimating prolonged greatness, he can’t do it every night, but that doesn’t mean he’ll never do it.”
As if Duncan had just heard Van Gundy say that, he proceeded to score the game’s next eight points with virtually the same move every time.
Unfortunately, Duncan lost in something that no one ever wins in: the fight against father time. His age caught up to him and the young players of the NBA were able to outplay him athletically and it was evident in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka were able to assert themselves above him and beat the Spurs in six games and presumably being Duncan’s final opponents.
So while Kobe Bryant had sixty points in his final game, in a stadium filled with stars and celebrities, and shown all around the nation. With a final speech in front of the whole crowd given by Bryant himself, Bryant had the perfect send off for the type of player he was.
But Tim Duncan, who has a very similar resume to Bryant, will not go out with a speech or sixty points in a star filled arena. Duncan, if he does retire, will be going out just as he would leave every game. With the same routine of going to the press conference, changing into his clothes and leaving.
While Duncan does deserve an immense amount of respect and just as much as Bryant does, this is how he should leave the NBA. And for Duncan, it’s probably in the fashion of how he wants to go out.
Adapted from Issue 8, Volume 77. Originally printed May 27, 2016.