The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan as a 2020 finalist, and we can’t think of anyone more worthy.
When encompassing the career of an NBA Hall of Famer, people look at a handful of factors: Accolades, impact, longevity, statistics, demeanor and importance to the history of the sport. The 2020 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class has been looked to for years as one of the most influential in the history of the sport, but now that it’s time to celebrate their legacies, San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan has officially gained a status we all knew he’d earn: Hall of Fame Finalist.
Duncan won’t be the player whose name is headlined primarily by most people covering it. Given his popularity and untimely passing just a few short weeks ago, the NBA world will focus their attention mostly on Kobe Bryant. Even if these terrible circumstances weren’t a factor, Bryant would still dominate Timmy’s spotlight and that’s okay—it’s how he would’ve preferred it.
Throughout his career, and now as a coach, Duncan is a reserved individual who lets his game speak for itself. Spurs fans know him to be intellectual, witty, endearing and dedicated, but he hasn’t been in the public eye very often since retiring in 2016 until rejoining the Spurs’ staff as an assistant coach, and even now we don’t hear from him all that often.
However, that doesn’t say anything about how Duncan revolutionized the sport. In the post-Michael Jordan era of the NBA, Timmy dominated the court. He won four championships in an eight-year span and another in a different decade entirely, making him the first player to win a chip in three separate decades.
Timmy is not only a deserving Hall of Famer, but he’s maybe the truest example of what it means to be a Hall of Fame-caliber player in NBA history. No player has put together the body of work that Tim has while maintaining such a positive influence over every player whose life he touched.
There are thousands of reasons why Tim Duncan is a deserving Hall of Famer, but today I simplified those and put it into three simple categories.
Next: Duncan was the ultimate role model
Providing a role model for generations of basketball players
Being a great basketball player is one thing, but being a great human is another. There are plenty of talented athletes that aren’t great people for their young fans to look up to. That’s not the case with Duncan, who has been a model citizen to the basketball world for the entirety of his career.
Duncan spent four years at Wake Forest University and won the NCAA’s Wooden Award for being an outstanding basketball player and student. He earned his degree in psychology and studied human behavior, applying all that he knew to his skills on the court as one of the more personable and well thought out individuals to ever play.
While in the NBA, Duncan never had any outside noise impact his playing career. He carried himself respectfully and with dignity, serving as a model for the franchise that head coach Gregg Popovich worked so diligently to build. He played the right way, using the fundamental skills of the sport to his advantage and outsmarting his opponents every step of the way.
Duncan wasn’t pouty, didn’t complain much, was respectful to other players, coaches and referees and most importantly, always stayed true to himself. His hard work and dedication resulted in a world of accolades and a place as one of the 10, arguably five best basketball players to ever play.
Even in his retirement, Duncan couldn’t stay away from the game for long and has returned as an assistant coach to mentor the players who carry the torch for him. He loves San Antonio and all of its fans just as much as they all love him, and even though he oftentimes keeps to himself and stays out of the public eye, Duncan has given back to San Antonio every step of the way.
Being a model basketball player is great, as is being a model citizen, but when you can embody both at the same time and inspire generations for years to come, you’ve truly reached the apex of your craft. That’s exactly what Duncan has done.
Next: Sustained excellence in his craft
Dominating the game for nearly 20 years
In the all-time rankings, Duncan is No. 14 in career-points scored, No. 6 in total rebounds and No. 5 in blocked shots. He made 15 All-Star appearances, won three Finals MVP awards, won an All-Star MVP in 2000, won the Rookie of the Year in 1998, made 15 All-Defensive teams and earned two league MVP honors. If that’s not enough to justify a Hall of Fame induction then nothing is.
Few players were as consistently productive in their playing days as Duncan, especially as late into their careers as he went. Duncan never shot lower than 48 percent in his 19 seasons, always blocked at least 1.3 shots per game and played stellar rim defense. Even as he approached 40 years old, Timmy remained one of the most feared rim defenders because of his excellent timing, length and defensive IQ.
Besides the early days, Duncan was never a player who turned the ball over frequently, committed dumb fouls or misread opponent’s plays. He was as consistent as a player could possibly be and always led his team both by example and, when necessary, by teaching them. If not for his presence in the 2014 Finals as a veteran player in his mid-thirties, Duncan’s rim protection, ball movement and post scoring were absolutely crucial to the team’s execution down the stretch.
Duncan harbored a culture that holds true in San Antonio today that puts team-based effort above all else and emphasizes the whole above the parts. His unselfishness afforded him the chance to play high-level basketball after mileage that most players would crumble under.
The fact that Tim played at the level at which he did for 19 seasons is unheard of, and because of it, he’ll be immortalized in Springfield, Massachusetts very soon.
Next: One of the most skilled to ever do it
Playing both sides of the ball with expert proficiency
As a scorer, Duncan’s game was simple and clean. He could go out and drop 30 on a nightly basis. He was a mid-range killer, making the bank shot his signature, and could cook you any which way in the post. He could score with either hand, delicately dropping shots into the hoop with a hook over either shoulder, a maneuver into a layup or a beautiful turnaround jumper.
Duncan played an inside-outside game, curling off of screens as a roll-man or pick-and-pop specialist. He read his opponents to a tee, cutting inside when they lacked focus and finding himself open under the basket constantly. Playing against Timmy was like a slow death by a thousand cuts, because even when he wasn’t playing his best, he was still going to make the right play nine times out of 10.
For as supreme as he reigned as a scorer, Duncan’s bread and butter came as a defender. As I’ve mentioned a few times, his brain was his greatest asset and he put it to use by knowing what his opponent was going to do before they did it. He analyzed his matchup’s game and calculated the correct way to limit them from being themselves.
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Even in his youth, Duncan was never the most athletic player. Yes, he had excellent size at 6-foot-11 with a long reach and widespread hands, but he never played above the rim and was not the strongest player on the court many times. Even when he took off for a dunk, he wouldn’t leap very high, relying on his long arms to do the work for him.
However, Timmy would pick his opponent apart slowly and surely, getting better with each passing quarter because of his improved assessment of the game. Duncan reached this Hall of Fame status by simply outsmarting his matchups and keeping an even-keeled demeanor at all times.
When you look back at the greatest two-way players to ever grace the sport, Duncan will be at the top of the list time and time again.
The history of basketball cannot be told without the story of Tim Duncan, and his Hall of Fame induction is yet another testament to that unwavering truth about the man that Spurs fans will always deem to be the ‘GOAT.’