Is the Tim Duncan Career Over?

There may be history tonight in OKC if the Thunder advance to the Western Conference Finals and the Spurs, the most dominant team other than the Warriors in 2015-16, are sent home because of two badly officiated games in San Antonio. The history in play is Tim Duncan and his legacy. After 19 years, it may all be over.

No one knows what is going to happen in OKC tonight but the 2016 playoffs have been a descent into old age as Duncan has put up numbers representative of a player who is 40 years old. He is averaging 4.4 points, 4.8 rebounds 39.5% shooting in 20.4 minutes. It is a narrative no one really wants to talk about. The most fundamentally sound player of the past 30 years is suddenly unable to make shots, grab rebounds and have an impact. It is not a sad thing to watch if you accept that 40 year old men are not supposed to play this game at a high level. It’s a young man’s game.

But the Tim Duncan career is based upon a precept of glory, excellence, skill and championships. That it may end in Oklahoma with a kick out the playoffs when the Spurs had such a brilliant season will be a bitter pill in San Antonio. This looked like the year the other Spurs could win it for Duncan the way Duncan won it for them so many times. Duncan would then have his 6th ring. He would bypass Kobe Bryant as the most dominant champion in his era. Duncan has already had a better career than Bryant, never been out the playoffs, and he was universally liked by the media and fans while Bryant, in many parts of the country, was hated or treated with an eye-roll or flat out hostility. Duncan never evoked that level of high emotion.  Duncan was a basketball player. It was his profession. He played the game. He went home. End of story.

Duncan, if it ends tonight after 19 years, will go out quietly, almost as if he wasn’t even here. 29 days ago, Kobe Bryant, after 20 years went out with a bang. But there will be no 50 shots and 60 points and loving serenade and Snoop dancing if Duncan’s last time on the basketball court will be a loss to the home team. It will be Duncan as he always is, graceful, polite, a little nostalgic, a little exhausted, and perhaps, ready to walk away the same way he came in. The truth about leaving the game is the same truth about entering the game: you walk in and out the same door.

As sentimental as it is for San Antonio, a generation perhaps coming to a close, they can’t really think about it. They can’t say, win this one for Timmy. They can’t remember the great Duncan moments, the bank shots, the blocked shots, the tip-ins, the dunks. They can’t remember how all this started because David Robinson broke his leg and the Spurs won the lottery in 1997. They can’t think of the 5 titles and never repeating and the 7 year title drought before they finally beat the Heat in 2014. They can’t think that with Duncan gone, who are they? He has defined them for so long.

The Spurs can only think about an elimination game and they have to win tonight and Russell Westbrook has to be stopped and Kevin Durant can’t ruin them with 40 and the Thunder home crowd can be shut up and game 7 in San Antonio is what’s at stake. Tim Duncan and his career is a bit player to the real story here even as Tim Duncan’s story is marvelous. A beautiful player with a beautiful game that defined a talent rich generation: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady, Steve Nash, Chris Webber, Jason Kidd.

Tim Duncan.

Game 6 and everything is on the line for the Spurs. Their season. Their championship hopes. Their greatest player of all time looking over his shoulder at the court and then walking away for good. Or, Tim Duncan getting on a plane for Game 7.

 

photo via llananba