There is much to be said about Tim Duncan. Many of the sentiments from fans, players and athletes and fans over the past two days have been nothing short of high praise and respect.
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There was always that Duncan that everyone looked up to. Some did it quietly, watching his moves, watching how he conducted himself, and others just followed his example. When he went on the court to win, they went on the court to win. When he dove for a loose ball, it inspired his teammates to play harder.
The Duncan we all know and love on the court for his play, professionalism and his leadership, will stay with all of us one way or another. Although it is the end of an era, what he helped set in motion for the organization is what makes players like LeBron James call it one of the best organizations in the world.
There was always that other side of Duncan we didn’t know. The one where he wasn’t in the mood to share, but as one teammate put it, he had to keep some privacy to keep a part of himself for himself. Those moments where he felt happiest when he could share time with his kids after a game, or how he secretly crept to the car limping, because he could barely bend his knee anymore. He never complained, he never publicized it in the media, and he never used it as an excuse not to give his all, because he did give his all.
There is one other part which coach Gregg Popovich revealed about their relationship. He and Duncan were sort of family in a closer sense. Popovich was never one to play favorites, and he treated Duncan the way he treated the rest of his guys. That kind of coaching always sat well with many players in the league. A coach who played it completely fair to everyone, and Duncan fell right in line.
February 20, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich (left) instructs forward Tim Duncan (21) during the fourth quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Spurs 110-99. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Pop was sort of engrafted, chosen to be there for Duncan, a father figure, or you could say family. He recruited him as a talented, and matured kid coming out of Wake Forest, and managed to stick with him for his entire career. They were so close to a point, Popovich decided, that once Duncan left the game, he would leave the game as well.
Popovich revealed on Tuesday what he had never spoke much about if ever at all. He spoke with Duncan’s father before he passed away years ago. His father asked Popovich to promise him one thing. He asked for him to promise , to keep Duncan grounded, never let him lose who he is. His statement: when he (Duncan) is finished with the game, make sure that he is the same person as he is now.
Popovich recalled, a bit choked up about the promise he made, reflected to see how he had done on his promise, and can rest in the fact that he did his job.
Keeping Duncan in San Antonio was so important to what he said he would do. Many times we would see Duncan in Pop’s coaching huddle, or just the two of them having a one on one, appearing to be in some intimate conversation whether it was a life lesson or a basketball lesson, it didn’t really matter.
What did matter was how they stayed connected, and how they understood each other. It was always important to Coach Popovich quietly to be there for Duncan, as much as Duncan was there for others.
So in Duncan’s retirement press conference, it was Coach Popovich who stood alone, speaking for him. He already understands that Duncan doesn’t care about attention. He knows as well as anyone else that it was important to open up, but still give Duncan that private piece of himself that he always cherished. He didn’t answer many questions but he spoke deliberately and deeply about his superstar, whom he says he feels loved to hide in plain sight.
— Jabari Young (@JabariJYoung) July 12, 2016
Even now, Duncan has not promised a press conference of his own. There is word that he will do an interview with a family member and nothing more.
If anyone understands that, it’s Gregg Popovich. As he ended Duncan’s press conference, he walked away to an empty practice facility, eerily telling of the void Duncan is leaving the game with.
Their relationship however will never go away, even after the fulfilled promise.