The greatest power forward in NBA history retired Monday. I remember the first time I saw Tim Duncan play in-person. It was “nothing to see” and “something to see” at the same time. Duncan’s career carried out that way. Methodical bank shots from angles you couldn’t imagine, hooks over his left or right shoulder, footwork and fundamentals that many NBA players drool over, and defense that stood the test of time. The words we often hear associated with TD are consistent, fundamental, and leader. Those words served to make him a great player for the San Antonio Spurs.
Back to the first time I saw Duncan play in New Orleans. It was an early season game in November 2007. The weather outside matched the feeling of watching the Spurs play (it was windy, raining, and cold). But there I was in the arena ready to watch the game. Both teams entered at 4-1 and this was about as excited as one could get for the 5th game of an 82 – game season. The game was close in the first quarter but then the Spurs gradually started pulling away. In the midst of Tony Parker spins and Chris Paul passes I kept checking the scoreboard for Duncan’s numbers. Watching the game it didn’t appear that he had done much. But in the 4th quarter as the game became less interesting I checked one last time and Duncan was sitting at 24 points and 12 rebounds. He shot 11 for 14 and threw in 4 blocked shots for good measure. It was the type of performance that Duncan was known for on most nights.
Fast forward to the Playoffs of the same season. The Hornets had won the Division and beaten the Mavericks 4-1 in the First Round. In the 2nd Round they met up against the Spurs. The first 6 games were blowouts with the home team winning them all. I attended Game 5 in New Orleans – Hornets won 101-79 – and I remember the building being electric the entire time. Fans were hype after the game and all I could think was “I’m going to get to attend the Western Conference Finals.” Well in Game 6 (Duncan had a double-double), the Spurs held and forced a Game 7 in Nola. Despite all of my hopes the spurs came into New Orleans and did what they do…win 91-82. Duncan didn’t shoot well but finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Mainly he was 6 for 6 from the free throw line. He had been working to get his free throw shooting better – his percentage went up from 63.7% (in 2006-2007) to 73% (in 2007-2008) – and it definitely helped that night. That ended my dreams of watching the Lakers vs Hornets in the Western Conference Finals.
Funny how Duncan’s retirement brings so many personal memories of the NBA. He was there to stop LeBron twice in the Finals, he was there to beat the Knicks when they squirmed their way to the Finals, he was there to stop Detroit from a repeat, and so on and so on. Some of the times the results weren’t in his favor but “he was there”…consistent, fundamental, and being a leader. Thanks Tim Duncan from a NBA fan that was glad to see most of it.