After 19 seasons in the NBA, Tim Duncan may be riding into the sunset. The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Monday that the 15-time All-Star was "leaning strongly" towards ending his pro basketball career.
If true, Duncan would close the book on one of the NBA's most storied careers. The staid big man will go down as one of, if not the best, power forwards of all time after a record of excellence that carried through three decades of play.
Duncan was one of the NBA Draft's all-time most prized prospects, and he lived up to the hype from day one. The Spurs, coming off the one season in the previous eight where they failed to make the playoffs, happily snatched him up with the No. 1 overall pick in 1997 and paired him with David Robinson to instantly create one of the league's most intimidating frontcourts. The success was instantaneous -- San Antonio hasn't made a return trip to the draft lottery since.
Two years after drafting Duncan, the Spurs were NBA champions. Four years later, another title. Then another one. And another. And another. And behind every deep run through the playoffs was the stoic power forward. His play rarely changed; a smattering of post moves and veteran plays ingrained in his game since his days at Wake Forest. His play never had to change; no one ever found a way to catch up to it.
For years, it appeared as though Duncan could play at the game's highest level forever. He effortlessly drove his Spurs teams deep into the playoffs behind a calm demeanor and a never-ending spring of turnaround bank shots. Even as he neared the age of 40, San Antonio chugged along. The team appeared in the Western Conference Finals in Duncan's 36th year, the NBA Finals at 37, and won an NBA title at 38 -- his final season as an All-Star.
Duncan's stats in his final championship drive? 16.3 points, 9.2 rebounds, and approximately 50 reminders of why his name should be spoken in reverent tones.
But time eventually proved it had not forgotten Duncan, it just got caught up watching him play. As the clock tolled on his 40th birthday this April, it became clear that a once transcendent player was now merely good. While he was still the heart of the Spurs, his role as dragon slayer had been usurped by younger guns like Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The man who had spent most of his 30s aging like a statue suddenly became mortal, and San Antonio was upset by Oklahoma City in the second round of the playoffs in 2016.
Despite a decidedly un-storybook finish, the legacy Duncan would leave behind is nearly unparalleled.
Career averages of 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, three assists and 2.2 blocks per game. Five NBA titles. Two MVP awards. Three NBA Finals MVP awards. Fifteen appearances on the All-NBA team, including 10 seasons of first-team honors. Fifteen appearances on the NBA's All-Defensive team. Fifteen All-Star Game selections.
But after two decades of watching the man work, it doesn't seem like the personal accolades could ever outshine what his Spurs did as a team. Duncan WAS the Spurs, and they'll continue to be his team even after he stops walking onto the hardwood for tip-offs. Our own Tim Cato probably put it best:
Duncan could not embody the Spurs' ethos any more than he already does. San Antonio doesn't act and talk like this because they have to -- plenty of teams have won championships by playing flashy and loud. No, it's a conscious choice, influenced by the head coach, the players and even the city itself.
Duncan may ride into the sunset after 19 years on the court, but his impact will be felt for generations. We'll see if he indeed follows through.