To be recognized by those who inspired you is to fulfill a dream. For a student of the game like San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan, the great basketball historian Bill Russell fits the role. An influential pillar with which the standards of the league are held up, Russell is the NBA and the NBA is Russell. He was the game’s first true superstar and used his talent to pave the way for greater change in the United States by using his platform and powerful voice.
Along the way, Russell won 11 championships and established himself as one of the most dominant players to ever play. His legacy is comprable to Duncan’s with the San Antonio Spurs in that his loyalty to his team never swayed and his convictions carried him to the promised lands.
That’s why this heartwarming moment between Duncan and Russell in 2009 was so meaningful. It’s only an abbreviated version of this conversation between the two, but look at the way Duncan looks at him. It’s the same way so many San Antonio Spurs would look at Duncan if given the opportunity to have a chat with him and express your appreciation for his place in your life.
Russell told a heartful story about Jackie Robinson’s wife asking Russell to be a pallbearer at the all-time great American baseball player’s funeral. Robinson’s wife told Russell that he was Jackie’s favorite athlete, to which Duncan was amazed. After a brief moment, Russell glanced Timmy’s way and told him “…and I feel the same way about you. You’ve played hard, you’ve played smart, won championships and I don’t think you’re finished with that yet…”
This took place in 2009, so as we all know, Timmy wasn’t finished. Five years later in 2014, Duncan became an NBA champion once more. That Finals victory put the icing on the cake of what’s one of the most unthinkable resumes in the history of this game. Now that it’s all said and done, Duncan is considered by many to have surpassed Russell in the all-time rankings — Which are completely subjective, of course.
Their careers took another parallel when just a few short years after his retirement, Timmy returned to the team that he loved — The San Antonio Spurs. This time, he’s filling an assistant coaching role like Bill, who was first a player-coach before assuming full-time coaching responsibilities once his retirement drew near.
While Duncan’s return was unexpected, it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise. Timmy is a great basketball mind beyond being a great player — Someone who doesn’t just play the game, but thinks it through and love it at his core.
Russell was the same way as a player, then a coach, and now the world’s role model for how to conduct yourself as a professional athlete and as a person.