One day, not out of the blue, but always with a pinch of surprise. Tim Duncan announced his retirement, something the San Antonio Spurs knew was going to come at some point, although being prepared for it never does fully take away the edge of the blow.
The numbers tell a story, but not all of it. He played for 19 seasons, all in San Antonio, winning five NBA championships, 3 Finals MVPs, two regular season MVPs, made 15 All-Star game and won an AS MVP once, made 15 different All-NBA teams and 15 different All-Defensive teams, while also starting his career off with a rookie of the year award. He’s the all-time Spurs leader in games, minutes, points, rebounds and blocks. He made the postseason each year. He made the finals a total of six times. He took the Spurs from good to great, and forever changed the culture and standards of this franchise.
The aging like fine wine moniker ended this season. Duncan wasn’t injured, but he looked old. Not his basketball age, but not far from it, being used for only 25.2 minutes per game, playing only 61 times, averaging in single digits scoring for the first and only time of his career. His defense and contribution to team defense was still fantastic, but after a number of renaissance years that included two Finals trips (2013, 2014) and adding a fifth championship ring to the collection, just as the Spurs were hoping their dream team would set itself up for another championship, one final one for him with Gregg Popovich, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, he decided to retire.
Who knows, maybe if the Warriors, finally stripped of their invincibility during the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cleveland Cavaliers, wouldn’t have signed Kevin Durant, Duncan would be coming back. But for someone who has battled quite a few formidable teams and foes over the years, it was probably his body, mind and soul simply saying they’ve had enough. At some point, gearing up for another season becomes too much. The thought of six to eight more months of basketball just doesn’t deliver the same kind of chills down the spine, or simply make you realize you’re not up for it anymore.
What a difference this Duncan retirement is compared to how Kobe Bryant went out. Maybe Duncan knew all along that he was leaving. Bryant announced it, and gave himself a chance to feel loved (a lot of fake love too) once again. Duncan never looked for adoration, publicity and fame. He rolls out of the picture quietly, without any fireworks and flashy lights. No favors from lenient defenses helping him out get one last career milestone. It’s not about dignity, but about class, something Duncan has always had in abundance.
The Spurs might have known already. Pau Gasol signing left the big man rotation quite packed, and while Duncan could have used the rest, it was another cue, one more hint that it’s time to go. Maybe he’ll disappear into the Texas sunset and show up like David Robinson from behind announcers and the team bench. Maybe he’ll lurk on Reddit or finally reveal his username and become a shitposter on r/nba. Maybe he’ll just spend his retirement playing video games. Anything his possible, like someone from his own era once said. Duncan retires while still being relevant. Garnett, who keeps on playing, hasn’t been in a long time.