On July 11, 2016, I was on the verge of the biggest change of my life. I spent my summer working as a head counselor at the day camp I attended since I was 9 years old; saving up money for a big move to Phoenix, AZ for my first year of college. I was leaving my life in Brooklyn, NY behind to pursue a dream inspired by my years of falling in love with basketball through the career of Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs — I was going to become a sportswriter.
Being responsible for two dozen children and three other counselors at 18-years-old is no joke. It was a job that I took very seriously considering that I was responsible for small children. At this particular moment, our group was in the smelly, humid locker room of a public pool in Red Hook, Brooklyn. If you're familiar with the locker room of that pool, I'm terribly sorry for reminding you of it.
Each time we visited the public pool, one adult from our team would have to stay in the locker room to watch our belongings while the children swam. It was a responsibility that staff members dreaded. I was prepared to give that responsibility to someone else until my phone buzzed and time stopped for a moment. It was a simple tweet from the official Spurs account that read "After 19 seasons, Tim Duncan announces retirement." That day, I didn't think twice about sitting alone in the locker room.
Tim Duncan was not just someone that I admired — He almost felt like family. Though not in actuality, Duncan was in my home almost every night between Spurs games, highlights, and posters on my wall. When I heard that I’d never see him lace up for an NBA game again, I felt the gravity of my fandom crashing down on my shoulders. I felt dumbfounded and lost even though I’d mentally prepared for the day my favorite athlete would call it quits.
Still, Duncan was much more to me than a guy who was really good at basketball. He was a living embodiment of one's ability to overcome incredible circumstances to reach the greatest heights of his craft. He was the textbook definition of a selfless leader. He was someone that I looked up to from the first moment I watched him lay in a silky smooth jump hook over the top of his matchup.
The retirement came at such an influential time for me personally. With Duncan retiring weeks before the most monumental change in my life, I was forced to come to grips with my childhood's end. Timmy was drafted just one year before I was born, so for the entirety of my life up to this point, he'd dominated the NBA.
It was a harsh yet powerful awakening that I was on the verge of adulthood. I shed tears in that locker room — partially because I’d never see my favorite player hoop again and partially because of what he symbolized in my journey.
Growing up was hard and moving away was even harder, but Duncan remained one of the most stable and reliable factors in my life. Without ever saying a word aloud, I pleaded that he would stick around for a 20th season so that I didn't have to experience all of these life changes at once. To see him retire on the cusp of my first steps toward a dream he inspired left me numb, but what I hadn't yet realized was that the lessons he taught me were going to help me achieve my dreams.
Duncan taught me what it looked like to put my head down and work my ass off until I had nothing left to give; then push even further to reach my goals. He led by example, showing not just his teammates, but his fans what it means to remain humble and outwork the competition. Even though we'd never met, I had to say goodbye to a staple of my world.
Looking back on that moment now, I can see that Duncan's legacy is far from absent in my life. The lessons he inadvertently taught stuck to the very fiber of my being. The 'Tim Duncan' in me comes out every time I write a basketball article, play a pickup game, or extend out of my comfort zone into a leadership role.
What's even more powerful is that I know I'm not alone in the sentiment. Across 19 years of excellence, Duncan was never a mainstream favorite, so his stardom wasn't in your face like his contemporaries.
However, Duncan's fans grew with him. By watching his story unfold, we'd come to understand that nothing in this life comes without hard work — Whether you're a soon-to-be college student preparing to make it on your own or if you're a star swimmer on an Olympic path unexpectedly forced to change your life's course.
This was just my story, but I bet you remember the moment that Timmy retired too. Maybe we shed tears together without knowing it, or experienced the same whirlwind of emotion that comes with saying goodbye. Maybe you experienced something entirely different, but similarly powerful. If you took the same journey that I did, then the lessons of Duncan's career and his character have helped to shape you too.
Now on the dawn of his Hall of Fame induction, I’m a first-generation college graduate doing exactly what Duncan taught me to do: Embrace the grind, stick to my morals, believe in myself and never give up.
For that, I’m eternally grateful for the man that will always be the Greatest Of All Time in my eyes: Timothy Theodore Duncan, the living embodiment of Spurs culture. Congratulations on reaching the Hall of Fame, big fella. One day, I'm going to get the chance to tell you just how much you inspired me.