Based solely on quantitative analysis, Tim Duncan is categorically the best power forward in the history of basketball. He has been at the core of the San Antonio Spurs’ four NBA championships, being awarded the Finals MVP in three of them. Duncan is a two-time regular season Most Valuable Player, 13-time All-NBA selection, 13-time All-Defensive Team honoree and 13-time All-Star.
Still playing at an all-star level, Duncan is in the midst of his seventh Western Conference Finals, as he and the Spurs do battle against the supremely talented Oklahoma City Thunder. He has been a model of greatness for two decades, embodying the philosophy of character, stability, humility and shared success that has come to define the Spurs, the franchise that drafted Duncan with the first overall pick in the 1997 draft from Wake Forest, where he was the unanimous choice for College Player of the Year his senior season.
Duncan’s path to the pros wasn’t the typical road taken by most of the current NBA stars. Today, nearly every player is either a product of the tainted and dubious American AAU system or intensive international development programs. By time these young men reach high school, they are already the subject of national rankings, exhaustive scrutiny and veterans of extensive travel to display their skills.
Not Timothy Theodore Duncan. His first love was swimming as a young boy. He took up basketball only after Hurricane Hugo ravaged the Olympic-sized pool in which he trained in his native St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. This was in ninth grade, around the same time that his mother, Ione Duncan, died of breast cancer one day before his 14th birthday.
At first struggling with footwork and coordination as so many young big men experience, Duncan eventually became a standout at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal School in St. Croix. By his sophomore season, he was arguably the best player in college. Regardless, Duncan shunned leaving college early for the spoils of the NBA riches, intent on keeping the promise he made to his mother of earning a degree.
It is that resolve and the absence of an ego that has been the force behind Duncan, now 36, aging so gracefully and without resistance.