Iconic Spurs forward Tim Duncan announced his retirement Monday morning, ending one of the longest and greatest careers in NBA history.
Considered the best power forward of all time, Duncan was the constant on all five of the Spurs’ championship teams. He was selected by the Silver and Black with the No. 1 overall pick of the 1997 NBA draft and made the All-NBA team 14 times during his 19-year career. Duncan is one of only five players in league history with 14 All-NBA selections.
A Wake Forest graduate, Duncan also played in 15 NBA All-Star games, and is the only player in league history to make the All-Defensive Team 14 times. He appeared on the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams in the same season 14 times, a league record.
Duncan, who turned 40 on April 25, was the NBA’s MVP in 2002 and 2003 and was named Finals MVP in 1999, 2003 and 2005. He is just the second player in history to earn Finals MVP honors in his first three appearances in the Finals, joining Michael Jordan, who was named Finals MVP all six times he played in the championship series.
Duncan, who also played center, averaged 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2.2 blocks during his pro career.
From the soft touch on his signature bank shot to his footwork and mastery of fundamentals to his even-keeled temperament, Duncan’s remarkable consistency transformed a good NBA franchise into one of the best in pro sports.
Nicknamed “The Big Fundamental” early in his career by Shaquille O’Neal, Duncan set the tone for the Spurs with his competitive ferocity and leadership. He also redefined the power-forward position with his unique skill set. A force on both ends of the court, Duncan could mix it up with the best under the basket or hit a jumper consistently.
“I have learned so much from Tim,” former Spurs center Tiago Splitter said in 2015. “Just being around him every day and watching how hard he works has been an experience. He was always looking to improve his game.”
Duncan’s retirement also marks the end of the Spurs’ storied Big Three. Duncan, point guard Tony Parker and guard Manu Ginobili were teammates for 14 seasons and won four championships together. They won 701 games, including playoffs, than any other trio in NBA history.
“His longevity is just unbelievable,” said Parker, who was only 19 when he played his first game with Duncan in 2001. “I said it many times. As a young guy when you first come in and you see him, he’s a double MVP and still working the same at 40 years old, so it’s been impressive.”
Slowed considerably by a sore right knee, Duncan posted the lowest scoring (8.6), rebounding (7.3) and blocks (1.3) averages of his career this season. He started 60 of the 61 games he played in and averaged a career-low 25 minutes.
Still, Duncan helped the Spurs roll to their best regular season ever. They finished 67-15 overall and 40-1 at the AT&T Center, tying the 1985-86 Boston Celtics’ league record for the most home victories in a season.
The Silver and Black swept injury-riddled Memphis in the first round of the playoffs, but their season of high expectations ended with a Game 6 loss to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference semifinals. After struggling in Games 2, 3, 4 and 5, when he made only 3 of 18 shots and scored nine points, Duncan finished the last game of the series with 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting. Playing the entire fourth quarter, he helped the Spurs cut a 28-point deficit to 11 with 3:40 left.
When the final buzzer sounded the end of his career that night in Oklahoma City, Duncan lingered on the court for a few minutes to congratulate the Thunder before leaving the floor. As he headed to the tunnel leading to the Spurs’ locker room, he raised his right arm and pointed to the sky with his index finger to acknowledge cheers from OKC fans. It was a poignant scene that will be etched in the memories of Spurs fans for years to come.
PHOTOS: Tim Duncan - End of an era
The Silver and Black became title contenders after All-Star center David Robinson joined the team in 1989, two years after San Antonio selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, but they never had made the Finals until Duncan became a Spur.
The team won its first championship in 1999, Duncan’s second season in San Antonio, and added titles in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014. Duncan and Robinson played together on the franchise’s first two championship teams.
The Spurs were synonymous with consistency and were lauded as one of the best franchises in pro sports during the Duncan era. They extended their NBA-record streak of 50-win seasons to 17 in 2015-16, and won at least 50 games in every season Duncan was on the team except the lockout-shortened 1998-99 campaign. The Silver and Black finished a league-best 37-13 that season and went on to win their first championship.
The Spurs went 1,072-439 and had the highest winning percentage (.710) among any team in the four major professional sports (football, basketball, baseball and hockey) during Duncan’s career. They also recorded 19 consecutive winning seasons and made the playoffs in every year of Duncan’s career. San Antonio’s winning percentage and victory total during that span is the best over any 19-year stretch in league history.
Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich have the most postseason victories in NBA history (157) as a player-coach duo. Duncan ranks No. 3 in regular-season wins with 1,001.
While Duncan never won a national championship in college, he had an outstanding four-year career at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons made the NCAA tournament each season Duncan was on the team, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 1995 and Elite Eight in 1996.
Duncan earned All-America honors and received the Wooden Award as the college player of the year as a senior in 1997, when the Spurs finished 20-62 and landed in the NBA lottery. He graduated with a degree in psychology before he was drafted by San Antonio.
What endeared “Timmy,” as he is called by his teammates, coaches and Spurs fans, to basketball purists through the years was the beautiful simplicity of his game. While other players flew to the basket and beat their chest after a rim-jarring dunk, Duncan consistently wore down opponents with the subtleties of his game.
Duncan was a favorite of iconic college basketball coach John Wooden, who led UCLA to 10 national championships in 12 seasons in the 1960s and ’70s.
“Tim is aggressive, but he’s not into showmanship,” Wooden said after the Spurs won their third NBA title. “He is very sound fundamentally, of course, and always gives credit to others. He makes the other players around him better. Not every talented player can do that.”
Born in Christiansted, St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Duncan grew up as a swimmer, but he turned to basketball as a high school freshman when Hurricane Hugo destroyed the swimming pool in Christiansted in September 1989.
Duncan set a standard of excellence that earned him the respect and admiration of his teammates and players and coaches throughout the NBA.
“When you look at his game, I’ve often described it as substance over style,” Odom said.
That substance was good enough to net the Spurs five NBA championship and give their fans a lifetime of memories.