‘No Smile, No Trash Talk’: Behind Tim Duncan’s Quiet Excellence


Tim Duncan stoically spent 19 essentially sound seasons permitting his play to talk for him.

Nineteen playoff appearances. Fifteen All-Star picks. Five championships. Five complete Most Valuable Player Awards, three within the finals, two within the common season. And this week, he’ll be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in a heralded class alongside Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant.

“You always get the question: What would you change? What would you do differently?” Duncan mentioned in a video launched by the Hall of Fame after his choice was introduced final 12 months. “Honestly, I don’t think there’s a change I would do differently.”

Duncan’s journey was certainly one of happenstance and perseverance. He grew up a proficient swimmer in St. Croix and left the game when Hurricane Hugo devastated the island in 1989, destroying the pool the place he competed. He began enjoying basketball within the ninth grade, setting him on a path to Wake Forest University, San Antonio and, now, Springfield, Mass.

The New York Times requested a bunch of his mates, lecturers, teammates and coaches to talk about his journey.

Chris King (Wake Forest, males’s basketball, 1988-92): We had a bunch of fellows that performed within the N.B.A. they wished to take all the way down to the Virgin Islands as a result of there was plenty of violence occurring on the time.

The group of fellows that we had was myself, Alonzo Mourning and Mark Tillmon from Georgetown, and we performed video games towards guys from the islands.

The guys have been on the point of play one evening and the entire place was packed. Here comes this skinny child, walks within the health club — I didn’t know who he was — named Tim Duncan.

That was the primary time I ever laid eyes on him.

The very first thing I seen about him was he had one thing that I had developed in highschool: He might use the glass. I used to be very impressed.

Dave Odom (Duncan’s coach at Wake Forest): [King] got here again early in September and was strolling by my workplace and I simply hollered at him: “Chris, come in here. I want to talk to you. Tell me about your trip.”

King: I mentioned, “There was this kid down there.”

Odom: And I mentioned: “Well, who was he? What was his name?”

He mentioned, “I don’t know.”

I mentioned, “Well, what island was he on?”

“I don’t know.”

So, he didn’t give me lots apart from there was a child who had some ability. There was a coach on my employees on the time, Larry Davis, and he had coached a child from the islands, possibly even St. Croix.

He got here again the following day in our employees assembly and threw Tim Duncan’s title on the desk and mentioned, “Coach, this is the kid.”

Odom was bought on Duncan after a visit to St. Croix. Wake Forest went 97-31 in his 4 years and completed 26-6 in two of these seasons, 1994-95 and 1995-96.

Randolph Childress (Duncan’s teammate at Wake Forest): It was a chilly slushy, wet day exterior, and he didn’t have a jacket. So, he pulled his arms contained in the quick sleeve shirt and simply walked round. That was my first picture of him. So, I simply thought: “Wow, this kid doesn’t have a coat. This skinny kid, is he going to be able to help us?”

I noticed him play. And then I believed, “OK, he can definitely help us.”

Tracy Connor-Riddick (Wake Forest Sports Hall of Famer for ladies’s basketball and Duncan’s longtime buddy): The first time I met him, he was within the cafeteria space and he simply appeared misplaced to me. So, I simply went as much as him and I requested him if there was something I might assist him with, and since my nation accent was so sturdy, he couldn’t perceive me and I couldn’t perceive him. And I believed, huh, this isn’t going effectively.

Odom: We performed him towards Vanderbilt. He scored one thing like 9 factors and had 5 or 6 blocks and doubtless nearly 10 rebounds. And it was at that time, I’m speaking to my employees, I’m saying, “We might want to look at this kid a little more closely and let’s see which way this thing takes us.”

Deborah Best (chairman of the Wake Forest psychology division and Duncan’s educational adviser): They have been enjoying on a Sunday afternoon sport, and my son and husband and I sat and watched the sport on tv and there was Tim enjoying. Later that night, I had to enter our constructing to get one thing out of my workplace.

This was again within the day once we had laptop labs and I needed to stroll previous the pc lab and the door was opened and I believed, Oh. Who is in there? I leaned in and it was Tim. I mentioned, “You were just on TV.”

He says, “Yeah, I’ve got a research methods lab report due tomorrow.”

As a senior, Duncan received the boys’s basketball John Wooden Award, given to the nation’s most excellent participant. The Spurs additionally landed the highest general choose within the draft lottery.

Sean Elliott (Spurs teammate, 1997-2001, present Spurs tv analyst): Back once we received the lottery, I used to be at house watching it and I swear, I might really feel the bottom bodily shake.

Avery Johnson (Spurs teammate, 1997-2001): I’ll always remember watching the lottery with my spouse and youngsters. We have been positioned to be the fourth choose and boy, when our title wasn’t known as, my coronary heart simply began beating quick.

Elliott: One minute later, Avery Johnson known as me and he mentioned, “We’re back.” And that is once we simply received the lottery, so we knew we have been going to draft Tim. It was a no brainer.

Mike Budenholzer (Spurs assistant coach, 1996-2013. Current head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks): You have these issues, Where have been you when this occurred? What have been you doing? It may be the one factor in my life the place I can let you know precisely the place I used to be and precisely what I did and simply how impactful it was.

Elliott: The first time I met Tim, he came to visit to the home. I had these huge video video games there that I used to play, it was Mortal Kombat. I used to beat up on the neighborhood children. I used to be just like the grasp.

Tim, he got here in and he’s like, “Oh, what’s this?”

I mentioned, “Oh, yeah, come on over here,” pondering I used to be going to offer him a whooping. He proceeded to completely annihilate me. And it was the primary time he had performed the sport and I simply couldn’t perceive it.

Outwardly, I used to be very gracious, however in my thoughts, I couldn’t imagine it. So what struck me about him is that it has been confirmed time and time once more, he’s the kind of man, you could be doing it your complete life and also you present it to him and in 5 or 10 minutes, he’s really higher than you’re.

Tim Duncan and David Robinson blended harmoniously, guiding the Spurs to the franchise’s first two titles in 1999 and 2003. “Tim, he’s a humble guy,” Robinson told TNT’s Ernie Johnson. “I always thought I was kind of quiet, and Tim made me feel like I was loud.”

Elliott: David wasn’t threatened by Timmy. Whereas plenty of franchise gamers in David’s place, they’d possibly have some animosity or resentment towards the brand new No. 1 choose coming in, the brand new franchise-type participant. But David wasn’t like that.

Timmy got here in with plenty of humility too. He wasn’t coming in like he was an enormous shot. He was keen to study from everyone, and guys can sense that within the locker room.

James Borrego (Spurs video coordinator/ assistant coach, 2003-10 and 2015-18, Current head coach of the Charlotte Hornets): What was so stunning to me was one of many first few days of that summer time, he invitations me to play pickup. We’re coming again, he doesn’t know my title. He simply is aware of I’ve been employed to be within the video room.

He goes, “You’re in.”

He places me in a sport to play five-on-five with the group. That day, the way in which he made me really feel welcomed and comfy in his house, in his facility, that’s after I knew he was completely different.

Speedy Claxton (Spurs teammate 2002-3): Everybody is aware of Tim was an ideal man, however he’s a humorous man as effectively, and likes to have enjoyable. I bear in mind after I first received there, the primary day we labored out as a workforce, we performed pickup. After that, he received all of us to go play paintball collectively, as a result of Tim was an enormous paint baller.

But he was an ideal teammate. He was at all times encouraging. No matter if you happen to missed two or three photographs in a row, he’ll get the double-team and he’ll nonetheless kick it out to you regardless of if you happen to missed three photographs in a row and let you know to shoot the ball each time you’re open.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the skyhook. George Gervin, the finger roll. Allen Iverson, the crossover. Duncan is endlessly recognized for his fundamentals, particularly his bank shot.

Gregg Popovich (Spurs Coach, 1996-present): It wasn’t like an eight-footer or 10-footer. He did it from 18 to 20 toes, and his footwork was nice, and he knew learn how to land it on the backboard. It was a rarity, it nonetheless is as a matter of reality, however that was his first signature transfer that I believe everyone realized there was in all probability one thing fairly particular about this man.

Antonio Daniels (Spurs teammate, 1998-2002): Tim Duncan on that field was totally unstoppable. I bear in mind sitting on a bench watching like, that is his second 12 months, like: This dude is unbelievable. He’s unbelievable.

He was capable of do it with such a stoic mannerism. No smile, no trash speak, no nothing. Just exit and put up 30 and 15, 40 and 12. Like it was nothing, so environment friendly. Just footwork and fundamentals.

He couldn’t leap over a chunk of paper, however he couldn’t be defended.

The Spurs have been on the precipice of successful a championship in 2013 in Game 6 of the finals earlier than Ray Allen’s dagger 3-pointer for the Miami Heat. Duncan had 24 factors and 12 rebounds within the deciding sport, however misfired on the free-throw line within the clutch. It was certainly one of a number of heartbreaks for San Antonio.

Borrego: We at all times felt like we had a shot due to 21.

He didn’t should say something. We simply knew it and you might really feel it. It was his confidence, his spirit, his fireplace, and his focus that all of us drew from. That was clearly a devastating shot [from Allen], a tricky second for all of us.

Steve Kerr (Spurs teammate, 1998-2001, present head coach of the Golden State Warriors): I’m watching all these video games on N.B.A. TV and Game 7 of the 2005 finals got here on, the Detroit, San Antonio [series]. I began texting Tim.

I had retired already, however I texted one thing like, “Watching Game 7, I’m nervous.”

That’s how these Game 7s are. And his rapid response was, “I was so bad in that game.”

Meanwhile, he’s dominating the sport and it might not have been his finest sport statistically or something, however the Spurs have been throwing him the ball on the block each single time. And Detroit had to answer that. The complete sport was going by means of him and typical Tim, he lamented in his texts that he had a awful sport. And that was Tim. When we have been enjoying collectively, he’d are available after a loss and he’d be like, “That’s my fault guys.” And you’d have a look at the field rating, he’d have 30 and 17 and 6 blocks.

George Karl (Opposed Duncan, whereas teaching the Seattle TremendousSonics, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Sacramento Kings): He was a “we” participant, so Tim Duncan can be pleased getting 15 factors and 10 rebounds. Tim was by no means going out to get 35 or 40 [points]. He was simply going out to beat you and so the sport plan was attempting to disrupt their offensive effectivity greater than the rest.

It’s not one individual. It was how do you make them not make photographs? Because they received the very best photographs in basketball for over 10 years. Their shot choice was impeccable and plenty of that was due to Popovich, however plenty of that was additionally due to Duncan, after which [Manu] Ginobili and [Tony] Parker can be in there they usually have been at all times on the identical web page. They by no means might be disrupted from a standpoint of sport plan.

Duncan and Popovich bonded on and off the court docket. “We’re more soul mates in life than we are in basketball,” Popovich told reporters main as much as Duncan’s jersey retirement ceremony in 2016.

Brett Brown (Spurs teaching employees, 2002-13): It was nearly a ritual the place at halftime, he’d come out from the locker room and Pop, he’d exit sooner than us. Timmy can be sitting on the bench and Pop would simply go sit down with him.

As I bear in mind it, oftentimes nothing was mentioned. Sometimes, they’d share a remark, nevertheless it gave the impression to be only a ritual that the 2 would meet each halftime on the bench.

And what was mentioned?

I don’t know.

Popovich: Any coach who has their finest participant as a frontrunner who’s revered by everyone and who can deal with criticism makes the job a lot simpler, so I used to be very lucky in that regard.

Duncan introduced his retirement in the summertime of 2016, by means of a workforce information launch. Over his 19 seasons, San Antonio went 1,072-438 in regular-season video games, the very best successful share over that point amongst all N.B.A., N.F.L., N.H.L. and M.L.B. franchises.

Daniels: I bear in mind saying this on nationwide radio and Spurs followers killed me for it. I mentioned, “The moment Tim Duncan walks out that door, the culture is going to walk out with him.”

You hear individuals say on a regular basis and I believe it’s probably the most overused cliché assertion in sports activities, “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win the championship.” And what’s lacking on the finish of that sentence is “unless.” “Unless I can’t get the minutes I want, unless I don’t get the contract I want, unless I don’t get the role that I want.” Tim Duncan really took the “I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win a championship” and lived by it.



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