Tim Duncan gave his last interview on Wednesday, in typical Duncan fashion. He stayed home with his best friend, to give his official say so on his own life, career and retirement.
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He’s been hailed and showered on social media with all kinds of accolades and praise, but never watched any of it. He said the debate of his place in history is not his concern, but that he’s just honored to be in the discussion. That is simply Tim Duncan. The Spurs lifer that changed the teams culture forever.
There was a time when he was ready to leave San Antonio, and almost did. Much of the fuss this summer about Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors, and in years past LeBron James joining the Miami Heat, regarding joining other stars to form a team with a core of great players was sort of on Duncan’s menu as well.
1,643 games for the Spurs, that almost didn’t happen. He maintains he was very close to leaving San Antonio. That’s almost unthinkable, but what happened exactly?
Once the Spurs moved into the summer of 2000, the Spurs core started to dissipate. Mario Elie, Avery Johnson and David Robinson were all rapidly climbing the wrong side of 30. The Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers became Western Conference powerhouses, and the Spurs didn’t seem to have another run in them to compete with stacked rosters. They had lost in the first round, and there just wasn’t an attractive situation on the horizon.
April 7, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan (21) during the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Spurs 112-101. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
With the summers free agency in full force, another, more enticing situation reared its head.
The Orlando Magic looking to improve its team gave their pitch to Duncan. The plan was to team him up with Grant Hill, and an young up and comer who progressed into stardom rather quickly in Tracy McGrady. Small market team, warm weather city, great core to build upon. Exactly what he would’ve enjoyed in San Antonio.
The chain of events went something like this:
The Magic flew Duncan in on a private jet. They posted pictures of Hill and Duncan into Magic uniforms on billboards around the city with the title ‘Imagine.’ Disney World wrote ‘Grant Us Tim’ in lights, and they even asked Tiger Woods to help them with finding him a home.
Duncan went back home to think it over. Grant Hill was excited and had signed.
Tracy McGrady was lured from the Toronto Raptors, and signed a max deal to return home to Florida. That was two enticing stars to give Duncan an extra nod.
The Magic had Duncan’s attention, and he even gave them a little extra time. They began clearing cap room in the event that he decided it was the right time for a change. At the time, the Magic looked to have a more promising future than the Spurs, and Duncan knew it. The Spurs knew it too, as Spurs owner Peter Holt told the Sentinel:
To say we’re not down here on pins and needles would be a lie.
The talks started the very first day of free agency, so the Spurs could be certain of nothing at all.
Gregg Popovich, in his own state of flux can related to teams who may lose their stars as he recalls:
It was a nerve-wrecking time. It was hell. You get close to a player and you don’t want to see him leave. I never let myself believe he was going to stay. I was just getting myself prepared, for sanity reasons. It’s no fun.
What saved the day? Why didn’t Duncan make the move to Orlando? Knowing Duncan, it was too much pizzaz, too much flash, too many lights, and with help from David Robinson convincing him otherwise, he decided it was best to stay put. Duncan was never comfortable with that much attention on himself. Duncan expressed his main reason in a short and sweet way.
There were several reasons for staying. It really came down to being comfortable.
Fast forward almost 20 years later, and Duncan has left the game a legend. After almost leaving the Spurs, it was that very team that he put his stamp on the league with, and the game of basketball. He created something special that has been respected by generations of basketball players. His lone choice of waiting his turn again ended up being the best decision ever.
How do we know? It’s because Duncan himself said of his own career and reflection of his life choices has come to the conclusion, that he has no regrets.
What some called for so long, the boring Duncan, decided to break the news to Popovich, but not before he pushed him to crack under pressure.
So Duncan pulled a prank on Popovich, meaning to sound like he had decided to leave.
Well coach, you know, there’s no beach in San Antonio.
…and Popovich being quite the character himself gave a reply in kind, knowing what was happening.
There’s no beach in Orlando, either.There’s a cultural desert there. What do you want to go there for?
Duncan gave him the good news that he wasn’t leaving anytime soon, and there was never another instance of him looking outside of San Antonio, even until this very day.
Things could’ve been so different for the NBA, but some things are not meant to be. Grant Hill almost never played a game healthy again in his career, and while Tracy McGrady (who ironically later joined the Spurs, only to lose in the finals) went on to be a star, his prime years were also cut short by injures before he retired.
When you think San Antonio, you will always think Tim Duncan.