Over his 19 years in the NBA, San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan quietly dominated the league. Today, we’ll look at the career of the best power forward to grace the hardwood floor.
Tim Duncan had a great high school career at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal High in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Duncan received numerous full-ride offers from some of the country's top basketball programs. In the end, Duncan committed to Wake Forest.
Duncan dominated at Wake Forest University. He averaged 16.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game on 57% shooting in 128 games. Duncan honed his skills in college and always put Wake Forest in the best position to win. They went 97-31 during his tenure and even went to the Elite Eight in 1996. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons never missed March Madness when Duncan was on the team.
For the 1996-97 NCAA season, Duncan was a walking double-double. He averaged 20.8 points, 14.7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and a whopping 3.3 blocks per game. Naturally, the 6-foot-11 senior was an excellent rim protector. He became a solid scoring threat as his college career progressed and eventually became the team’s go-to guy in crunch time. At the end of his senior year, Duncan won the Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year award.
Duncan’s mother passed away when he was 14. He promised her he’d go to college and graduate. In an era where players like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were getting drafted straight out of high school, Duncan hit the books and made good on his promise. The campus legend graduated with a degree in psychology. We may never see a player of his caliber stay for all four years of college again.
Fun fact: As an undergrad, Duncan co-authored a chapter in a psychology book written by Mark Leary, his college professor. The chapter is about egotism and can be found here.
The San Antonio Spurs drafted Tim Duncan first overall in the 1997 NBA Draft. No one was surprised. The Wake Forest product was touted by many as the most complete player in the draft class.
In his first of 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs, Duncan averaged 20.7, 9 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per game. Duncan ran away with the Rookie of the Year Award. It was the start of a great career in the Alamo City.
From 1997-2003, Tim Duncan teamed up with center David Robinson, nicknamed The Admiral thanks to his alma mater, the Naval Academy. The formidable front court of Duncan and The Admiral intimidated opponents who dared to drive into the paint. On offense, they scored at will by taking smart shots. They won two championships together. David "The Admiral" Robinson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
In a lockout-shortened season, the Spurs went 37-13 in the regular season. They only lost once in the Western Conference Playoffs. In the NBA Finals, they beat the New York Knicks in five games. It was the first of five championships for Duncan and the Spurs.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention that head coach Gregg Popovich dialed up a masterful gameplan night in and night out. The legendary coach was Duncan’s only head coach of his entire career.
Duncan made the All-Star Team for the second time in 2000. The gentle giant filled the stat sheet this night, finishing the game with 24 points, 14 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and one block. He only missed two shots all game. The West beat the East 137-126, and Duncan was named All-Star Game MVP for his standout performance. Duncan was an All-Star every year from 2000-2011.
Tim Duncan was the Spurs’ franchise player for 19 years. But even the best legends need a well-rounded supporting cast.
In 1999, the Spurs drafted Manu Ginobili. He played overseas in Italy before finally joining the team in 2002. The savvy left-handed scorer introduced the NBA to the Euro Step.
In 2001, the Spurs drafted point guard Tony Parker. The French phenom left the French leagues and joined the Spurs right away.
Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili formed the Big Three. All of them piled individual accolades while complementing each other’s skill sets. They became perennial contenders in the West Conference, winning 50 games or more regularly. The Big Three and Coach Popovich were the only constants in the following championship runs.
Duncan won NBA MVP in 2002 and '03. He averaged 24.4 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 3.8 blocks with a 51% field goal percentage over this dominant two-year period. Winning back-to-back MVPs put Duncan in impressive company. The only other players to accomplish this feat in the 21st Century are Steve Nash (2005, '06), LeBron James (2009, '10; 2012, '13), Steph Curry (2015, '16), Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019, '20), and Nikola Jokic (2021, '22).
In the 2002-03 NBA season, the Spurs went 60-22, the best record in the Western Conference. Convincingly, they beat the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Spurs faced the then-New Jersey Nets in the Finals. The Jason Kidd-led Nets put up a good fight, winning Game 2 and Game 4. Nevertheless, the Spurs prevailed to win the NBA Finals in six games.
The 2003 NBA Finals featured Tim Duncan in his prime. His finest performance came in Game 6. If the Spurs won, they’d be world champions. Duncan showed up to the occasion. He ended the game with 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists, and a whopping eight blocks! He almost had a quadruple-double, which is unheard of, especially on the game’s biggest stage. For his efforts, Duncan won Finals MVP.
The 2004 Summer Olympics were held in Athens, Greece. Duncan participated in the event with the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team. The team was led by Duncan and Allen Iverson and rounded out by a young cast of LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Carmelo Anthony. They earned a bronze medal. It was Duncan’s last time on the U.S. basketball Olympic team.
In 2008, the Redeem Team won gold, reminding the world of America’s basketball dominance.
2004-05 was another winning campaign for the Spurs. They went 59-23 in the regular season and flattened the Denver Nuggets, Seattle SuperSonics, and Phoenix Suns in the playoffs on their way to the NBA Finals. They went up against the Detroit Pistons. Known for the scrappy defense and hustle plays, the Pistons were a challenge for the Spurs. Both teams had similar team-oriented philosophies. It didn’t matter. The Spurs had Tim Duncan, who was a walking bucket all series long. The Spurs eked out a victory against the Pistons in a hard-fought series that went to seven games. Tim Duncan averaged 20.6 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. That was good enough for Finals MVP.
Tim Duncan won Finals MVP three times (1999, 2003, '05). A player’s legacy is defined by how they play in crunch time. When it mattered most, Duncan delivered. He was a maestro with the ball in his hands. And on defense, there was a block party anytime the other team drove into the paint. Duncan had what it took to will his team to victory.
The Spurs went 58-24 in the 2006-07 season. It was the eighth time in a row that the Spurs won 50 games or more in the regular season, proving they were the model of consistency in the NBA. They beat the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz en route to their third finals appearance in five years. Make no mistake, this was the peak of the Spurs’ dynasty. They were the kings of the West during this time. The 2007 NBA Finals were no different. They swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Finals. Duncan averaged 18.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in the lopsided series.
Every NBA legend has a nickname that summarizes who they are as a player. Duncan’s is The Big Fundamental. Duncan stuck to the fundamentals of winning basketball in a league full of flashy scorers, acrobatic dunks, and selfish superstars. He didn’t make costly turnovers. He didn’t shoot his team out of games. With every movement on the court, he had one goal: putting his team in the best position to win. He was never the most exciting player in the league, but he won the admiration of fans for his no-nonsense approach to the game. His simplicity was pure genius.
The Spurs continued their winning ways in the regular season. In the playoffs, they couldn’t get over the hump. A series of heartbreaking playoff losses haunted the Spurs from 2008-2012. When the going got tough, the Spurs never lost morale. They shook themselves off and rallied for the next season, hoping to win the franchise's fifth ring.
The Spurs went 58-24 in the 2012-13 regular season. The Spurs Big Three played the smart brand of basketball they came to be known for all season long. Kawhi Leonard’s breakout season added a fourth star to the mix. The young small forward proved himself to be one of the top two-way players in the league.
In the playoffs, the Spurs swept the Lakers in the first round, beat the Golden State Warriors in six games, and swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. It was official: Tim Duncan was going to his fifth NBA Finals.
The Spurs hustled to a commanding 3-2 lead against the Miami Heat. The Heat, led by a cast of LeBron, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen, wouldn’t go down without a fight. They won Game 6 off a miraculous game-winner by Ray Allen and beat the Spurs in Game 7.
Tim Duncan averaged 18.9 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 1.4 assists in the unforgettable series. It was the first and only Finals series he ever lost.
The Spurs were a motivated team in the 2013-14 season. Their regular season record was 62-20, the best in the West. They fought back to the NBA Finals for a rematch with the Heat. They had their way with the Heat all series long, winning in five games. Duncan averaged 15.4 points, 10 rebounds, and two assists in the victory.
Two years after winning his fifth ring, Duncan called it a career. He retired at 39. Duncan’s production dipped toward the twilight of his career. He was still the heart and soul of the Spurs, but his body couldn’t take the beating of the NBA’s 82-game schedule anymore. Duncan gave the game his all, leaving no doubts that he played until he physically couldn’t. He retired with career averages of 19 points, 10.8 rebounds, and three assists per game.
Even though they were a small market team, the Spurs dynasty reigned over the NBA from 1999-2014. In this period, they won five championships (1999, 2003, '05, '07, '14). The Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili wrote their names into the history books. Legendary head coach Gregg Popovich commanded the show from the sideline. In an era of great teams that came and went — Kobe and Shaq, the Sacramento Kings teams of the early 2000s, and Steve Nash’s Suns — the Spurs were the one main constant in the West.
Successful basketball teams are known for having one superstar surrounded by a cast of supporting role players. Think of the Lakers teams that won back-to-back championships in the late 2000s. The Spurs had a much different winning formula. The Spurs weren’t afraid to pass the rock in a league full of ball-hog superstars. They played good, team-oriented basketball. Their ball movement was a thing of beauty. It was poetry in motion.
It is often said the backboard is either your best friend or your worst enemy. Duncan made his living off bank shots. It didn’t matter whether he shot from the elbow, low post, or midrange… the bank was always open for Duncan. The bank shot became Duncan’s signature move.
In 2020, Tim Duncan was inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame.
As of this writing, Duncan is second in career wins (1,158), fifth in career blocks (3,020), sixth in career rebounding (15,091), and 15th all-time in career points (26,496). He holds a 5-1 record in the NBA Finals.
Tim Duncan is the greatest power forward of all time. We may never see another player like him at the position ever again.
David J. Hunt is a freelance writer based out of Philadelphia. He ran cross country at Penn State, became a volunteer firefighter during COVID-19, and is a self taught journalist. He's a diehard Philly sports fan. When he isn't watching sports, he enjoys working out, fishing, and traveling. You can find more of his writing at The Chestnut Hill Local and The Temple News. You can follow him on Twitter at @dave_hunt44.
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