We are now in the midst of the NBA playoffs — a long, drawn-out process that feels almost like a full season in its own right. For the next two months, the League will dominate sports headlines. In particular, the record-breaking Golden State Warriors and Steph Curry’s sprained MCL will get much of the attention as Steve Kerr’s offensive juggernaut attempts to march its way to a second consecutive title. But, as exciting as the Warriors are, and as fascinating as LeBron James and the Cavaliers may be, we run the risk of blinking and missing the end of one of the most illustrious careers in NBA history. This may be Tim Duncan’s last go round. And that’s a big deal.
The media refers to the San Antonio Spurs as “under-the-radar” so often that it’s hard to argue that they actually are. But the Warriors’ success and Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour certainly did overshadow Duncan and the Spurs this year. Of course, they only won 67 games en route to their 19th consecutive playoff appearance, but this isn’t about the Spurs routine dominance — it’s a cry for appreciation of Duncan.
Duncan, 39, is an all-time great (many consider him the greatest power forward to ever step on a basketball court). He — along with head coach Gregg Popovich — has anchored the Spurs throughout all 19 of those playoff appearances and won five championships (he has logged the most playoff minutes in the history of the NBA). He is the 14th all-time leading scorer, sixth in rebounds and fifth in blocks. And while his production has dipped this year — he averaged a career lows in points (8.6) and rebounds (7.3) — the sacrifices Duncan made throughout his career have proved instrumental in the Spurs’ sustained success. After winning back-to-back MVPs in 2002 and 2003, he eventually handed the reigns of the Spurs offense to point guard Tony Parker who, in turn, has passed the torch to Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs’ unequivocal star. That selflessness is rarely seen in professional sports today.
The thing is, we’ll never get a Tim Duncan farewell tour like we did with Bryant or Derek Jeter. He won’t give us that luxury. Most likely, Duncan will play his final game — whether it be this year or next year — and then slip quietly off into retirement. So, for now, NBA fans should treat this year’s playoffs like they’re Duncan’s last.
There’s no telling if the Spurs can defeat Golden State or Cleveland and possibly send the future Hall-of-Famer off with his sixth championship ring, but it doesn’t matter. Duncan’s — and the Spurs’ — legacy is cemented. So, NBA fans should do themselves a favor and watch Duncan for, perhaps, the final time. Blink and you’ll miss it.