Tim Duncan has had a remarkable career in many regards, but putting up his legendary numbers for 19 seasons with a single franchise makes it even more uniquely stunning. Duncan has been able to call San Antonio home for nearly 2 decades in a landscape of frequent player movement. To fully embrace the distinctive nature of Duncan’s NBA story, it should be juxtaposed with the sojourning instability which is the professional basketball life of fellow Wake Forest alumnus Ish Smith.
Smith isn’t just noteworthy for his unusual first name, but because he perhaps best embodies the turbulence of the fight to establish a home in the NBA.
His first negative ordeal was going undrafted out of Wake Forest. His fellow Demon Deacons star player was conversely handed the league on a silver platter, going number 1 overall in the draft. Duncan certainly earned his distinction, but it nonetheless gave him an easier opportunity to establish himself in the league.
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John Stockton spend 19 seasons with the Utah Jazz, and Kobe Bryant spent 20 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Those 2 players are the only guys in league history to spend as much time with one franchise as Duncan has. As spectacular as those feats may sound, Smith is working on a record that seems within his grasp despite only being in the league since 2010.
Smith has played for an unbelievable 9 different franchises since entering the league. The all-time record is 12, and as he turns 28 this summer, he looks like he has a fantastic chance to shatter that mark by the time he retires.
Smith has suited up for the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Memphis Grizzlies, and Golden State Warriors already in his relatively young NBA career.
4 players in NBA history have played for 12 different franchises: Chucky Brown, Jim Jackson, Tony Massenburg, and Joe Smith. Those idiosyncratic careers seem barely plausible; they were good to the point of being able to stick around the league long enough to play for 12 teams, yet deficient enough to never make a team commit long term to them.
Oddities like Smith serve as a reminder of how rare geographically static players in the NBA really are. This is not a business meant for sustained bonds between a player and city, yet San Antonio has been blessed to watch not only one player play for so long in front of them, but have it be an icon like Duncan.