In a previous post, I spelt out the dying phase of one club players in the NBA following Dwayne Wade’s decision to leave Miami Heat for his hometown Chicago Bulls some days ago. To see a 13 year veteran on one team suddenly bolt town due to dollar issues sparked the question. A question which touches the undeniable fact, one man club guys are a dying breed in the one league which epitomizes that. In football, it is common; players move here and there even to joking point, if you have seen and heard Graziano Pelle is now of the top five highest paid footballers in the world by moving from England to China.
The trend bucks for baseball, cycling and American football. In just a single offseason, Kobe Bryant retired after 20 years of servitude to Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Durant stunningly decided to follow Steph Curry’s line by moving from Oklahoma City Thunder to Golden State Warriors and then Wade happened. But none-I certainly didn’t- predict a breakup between San Antonio Spurs and Tim Duncan at least not before the upcoming season. Throw in the subtle fact the graceful Power Forward activated his contract for the upcoming season, and his announcement to retire from basketball was utterly shocking. Many would finger five NBA titles, two Most Valuable Player of the Year Awards and 19 years in the league with San Antonio as his most striking achievement.
He could have gone for one last merry go round in the brutal 82 game schedule and more to equal Bryant’s record as the most tenured one man team in league history. Obviously, none of this would have been possible if he left to team up with Tracy McGrady in Orlando for the Magic in 2000. However, what Duncan did on the court reverberates far beyond the on court story he wrote with friends named Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, David Robinson and Robert Horry to name a few. His stay and excellence with the Spurs was testament to the NBA, teams in small markets can thrive in a landscape which only caters to the largest and most ready markets.
Winning five championships in a market noted for rodeos, taxes and death is no mean feat. Whereas the Lakers profited from the uneven scale in the league years ago, and Boston Celtics made themselves a dynasty beyond comprehend in a comparatively weaker league, San Antonio had to do it the hard way. The Spurs had to take down a three time reigning champion in 2003 for a second ever title. They repeated in preventing another giant from sweeping the trophy stakes in 2014 when they rebounded perfectly from a crushing loss a year earlier to beat LeBron James’ superstar built Miami Heat. To do that took endless years of cost saving moves to build a capable and consistent contender and it showed, for 19 years Duncan spent in the Alamo City, Spurs qualified for the playoffs in every season.
Nothing of this magnitude would have been possible had Duncan not green lighted-which he could have- management to be frugal with his yearly earnings. Going into the NBA as the overall number one pick in 1997, few would have predicted Duncan’s game would evolve from a springy athletic Power Forward to a paint methodological prodder who used the facets of fundamental quirks to produce on a nightly basis; blame a career threatening knee injury for that. His game matched his persona, muted but brilliant. Scan through thousand highlight reels of Duncan and one might be tempted to doze off. Nothing spectacular, fancy nor rim rocking just basic fundamental basketball hence his nickname the Big Fundamental. Fundamentally “in line” with Coach Gregg Popovich, their relationship drew comparisons to Red Auerbach’s tandem with another big man one club guy, Bill Russell of the Celtics.
Reflecting on what almost would have been a historic game changer in 2000; Popovich said in a 2010 NBA.com article, “It was a nerve wrecking time. It was hell. You get close to a player and you don’t want to see him leave. I never let myself believe he was going to stay. I was just getting myself prepared, for sanity reasons. It’s no fun.” Cue a coach’s deep love for a player. Kevin Durant has missed the chance to be an unquestioned leader of a contender by leaving Westbrook’s side in Oklahoma instead tagging along Curry’s in Oakland.
Duncan’s enormous, legendary shoes had to be filled by another great who can be greater as he hits his prime. Duncan’s miss is of legendary status for the Spurs and Durant’s miss is of legend altering status for Spurs.
By: Yaw Adjei-Mintah