Tim Duncan, "The Golden God," turns 39 years young today. His birthday wish was to stay at 38 and while I can't make that happen, hopefully this List of 39 awesome Tim Duncan Things will suffice.
1. It took a literal force of nature to get him to play basketball.The entire history of the San Antonio Spurs and the NBA itself would've been radically different if Hurricane Hugo never happened.
2. He kicked Hakeem Olajuwon's ass to save Pop's job. The Spurs got off to a 6-8 start in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season and ownership was growing impatient. Rumor had it if they lost their next game, they would've fired Pop, the coach and general manager, and replaced him with popular team broadcaster Doc Rivers. Here's Avery Johnson via ESPN.com's Mark Stein:
"Absolutely," Johnson says. "Things had been communicated to us. It was really real.
"There was a lot of noise about Pop being potentially replaced by Doc, so David [Robinson] and I went to Pop's house before we got on the flight to go to Houston. Pop talked to us and ... what I will say is we came out of there feeling so strongly about Pop that we knew we had to go win that game."
"You might want to go look at the numbers," Johnson added, "of what we all did [against Houston]."
Duncan had a game-high 23 points, 14 rebounds and 5 blocks, as the Spurs blew out a Rockets team that also featured future Hall-of-Famers Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen.
3. Duncan was so meant to be a Spur that San Antonio actually won the lottery for him twice over. The NBA uses a complicated raffle system in their ping-pong ball drawing, where four numbered balls are picked at a time, with each team being assigned specific numerical "combinations" based on their percentages of winning. Not only did the first drawing come in the Spurs favor, but so did the second. The league had to discard that and do it over again to figure out who had the second pick.
4. He wound up being a better player than Keith Van Horn.
A footnote from a Bill Simmons column on Duncan in 2013:
Longtime Spurs media guy Tom James reminded me of this recently — he said their local newspaper polled San Antonians before the draft and 30 percent of the fans wanted Van Horn.
An added treat in this New York Times story is former Nets big-man Jayson Williams calling Van Horn "the greatest since Michael Jordan." Unfortunately, that statement wasn't the stupidest moment of Williams' life.
Speaking of which...
5. Don Nelson thought Duncan was good enough to shoot Pop over. As the story goes, after the favored Celtics lost the lottery, Rick Pitino had M.L. Carr, a high-ranking team executive, call Gregg Popovich to offer the third and sixth overall picks for the rights to the Spurs first pick. Wisely, Pop politely declined the offer. Nelson, whom Popovich was an assistant coach for with the Warriors, offered a typically blunt assessment of the non-decision:
"If Pop trades him, I'll go down there and take my shotgun to his house."
(h/t Dan McCarney of the Express-News)
6. Tim will give a bad bottle of Gatorade a second chance before rejecting it forever.
You don't often see that kind of open-mindedness in superstars.
7. He convinced Pop to drink something even more disgusting as a practical joke. From Ric Bucher's 2005 story for ESPN: The Magazine "All Work and No Play..." which will always be the definitive feature about the Spurs:
The first move was made by Duncan, when he convinced Pop to try a local shaved-ice drink that is a nonalcoholic cross between ouzo and grappa. "Most godawful thing I've ever had," Popovich says. "He laughed at me like I was 12 years old. But I told him, 'You opened the door, Jack.'"
On the same getting-to-know-you trip to St. Croix, Duncan yanked Pop's chain again by pretending to be drowning.
8. Duncan's first shot as a professional, a lefty jump-hook, was emphatically rejected by Greg Ostertag.
From the same story by Bucher:
The No. 1 pick had no qualms about reporting for summer leauge duty. But when Duncan, a righty, had a left-handed jump hook swatted by a no-name center, it was payback time for Pop. "Nice shot," he said. "We're going to be real good this year."
Duncan didn't miss a beat: "I told you you screwed up taking me."
9. He tormented the Suns from the beginning. In his first ever playoff game, on the road at Phoenix, Duncan scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds and pretty much singlehandedly won the game for the Spurs.
10. He wrote a manual on how to prepare for life in the NBA while in college at Wake Forest. He contributed to an academic published study entitled "Aversive Interpersonal Behaviors." Duncan's chapter, which he co-wrote with three fellow psychology majors, was "Blowhards, Snobs And Narcissists: Interpersonal Reactions To Excessive Egotism." In a completely unrelated story, he's faced LeBron James in three NBA Finals.
11. He is actually "a clown, cleverly disguised as a regular person." Duncan wrote a self-psychoanalysis for Sport magazine back in 1999 that so weirded everyone out that he promptly tuned down the promotional aspect of his public life 8,000 percent. I don't know why, I thought it was great. Lots of athletes start terrible clothing lines. Only Duncan admitted he'd do it on purpose, just to mess with people.
12. Timmy continues to discover new things about himself. Duncan's up to ninth all-time with 14,644 rebounds, which is all the more impressive considering he only realized he has arms a few years ago.
13. He's more competitive in paintball than is at basketball.
From Chris Ballard's excellent feature "21 Shades of Gray" for Sports Illustrated:
O.K., it's a toss-up as to how this will make you feel about Duncan: Did he once invite a bunch of teammates to a paintball course even though most had never played paintball? Perhaps. Did Duncan then stack his team with ringers and bring his own high-powered paintball gun? Maybe. Did he give certain players such as Danny Ferry guns that, according to Ferry, "were bent and shot six feet to the left every time"? There's a chance. And did Duncan then take great delight in hunting down his teammates, chasing the pale, balding, shorts-wearing Ferry until he was in close range, at which point Duncan unleashed a hail of water-soluble hellfire upon the man? It's possible.
14. He's also more competitive in video games than he is at basketball.
From the Bucher story:
Even Duncan, who hobbled out for the 50-minute celebration despite having left the game with a sprained ankle, got a shot for visiting Elliott in a hospital after his transplant to challenge his drug-addled teammate to video game battle.
15. Duncan made Shaq look silly for asking to guard him one-on-one. In 1999, the Spurs were up 3-0 in their second-round series against the Lakers and Shaquille O'Neal was tired of watching Duncan dominate Robert Horry, so before Game 4, he told coach Kurt Rambis that he wanted to check Duncan straight up. It did not work out too well for him, as Duncan scored 33 points on 11-of-14 shooting as the Spurs finished off the sweep. Timmy made some of the buckets look embarrassingly easy. (To be fair to O'Neal, he scored 36 while being guarded mostly by David Robinson.)
16. Ron Artest thinks Timmy's a pimp. This was a compliment, from Metta World Peace, or The Panda's Friend or whatever Artest is calling himself these days, back when he played for the Kings (via ESPN.com's Pat Forde)
"I remember one time Kevin Garnett was mushing him, and shoving him in the face; and Tim Duncan didn't do anything, he didn't react. He just kicked Kevin Garnett's a--, and won the damn championship. You know what I'm sayin'? That's gangsta. Everybody can show emotion, dunk on somebody, scream and be real cocky; but Tim Duncan is a ... he's a pimp."
17. Captain Jack has Duncan's back as well. Artest's "Malice at the Palace" co-conspirator Stephen Jackson can also vouch for Duncan's street-cred. Jackson had a pair of stints with the Spurs from 2001-03 and 2011-2013.
A line from Ballard's feature:
"I'm humbled to be able to say that Tim Duncan is a good friend of mine."
18. Duncan wants to have Jay Cutler's job when he grows up. He is constantly throwing these types of passes in games. Some are successful, some aren't. Fans of Duncan's beloved Chicago Bears can surely relate.
19. He loves throwing things at Sean Elliott. I'm sure plenty of neutral League Pass junkies have fantasized about doing this to the notoriously partisan Spurs broadcaster. Most of the time, it's just towels. Other times, Elliott is less fortunate.
20. Duncan doesn't mind being mother------ at practice. A Spurs assistant coach gave Ballard this fantastic quote about Duncan's ability to not take offense when Pop "goes Serbian," during practice.
Most important, he's allowed Popovich to coach him. For 15 straight seasons Pop has gone after his franchise player in practice. We're talking neck veins bulging, spittle flying, a Gatling gun of obscenities. And all Duncan has done is stare back, absorbing it. "He hasn't always liked it," says former teammate Sean Elliott, now a team announcer, "but he takes it. You know how important that is for the rest of the team to see?"
Or, as one Spurs coach puts it, "How could a guy like Stephen Jackson complain when Pop was motherf------ Tim every day?"
21. Duncan is secure enough about his accomplishments that he can let shade from Pop slide. In the "Champions Revealed" special, Popovich explained how crucial it was, that in the final game of Robinson's decorated career, he grabbed 17 rebounds to help secure the Spurs second title in 2003. He went on to joke "I couldn't get Timmy to board so luckily David was around to get a rebound that day."
Duncan just grinned and took the jibe in stride, not taking the bait to reply "Well actually..."
Not only did Duncan lead the Spurs with with 21 points, 10 assists and a career-high 8 blocks in Game 6 against the Nets, but he also pulled down 20 rebounds, to complement Robinson's 17.
22. Duncan is a useful friend to have during tax season. It's true, Duncan can totally help you file you taxes if you ask him nicely. This and many other under-reported Duncan factoids can be found at The Onion, the world's leading source in Tim Duncan news.
23. Tim is a big fan of "Big Shot Bob." Knowing how much Horry despises being referred to as "Bob," Duncan delighted in referring to him as such or even the more grating "Bobby," in public as much as possible, often encouraging the team's beat writers to call him that as well.
One of my favorite Spurs memories is Duncan's press conference after the 2005 Finals. He gave this expansive answer in his trademark monotone, full of backhanded compliments about how Horry always stepped it up in the playoffs after never breaking a sweat during the regular season, pretending the whole time he hadn't noticed Horry standing in the doorway, waiting for his turn at the podium. After finishing up his soliloquy, he hammed it up by "finally" realizing Horry had heard it all and greeted his teammate with mock-awkward embarrassment, "Oh, heyyyyy Bob."
24. He meditates while farting. Or whatever this is.
25. Duncan has the best nicknames for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. If he ever wanted to get into sportswriting, he'd make us all look terrible. Fortunately for me, he'd sooner jump into a live volcano.
26. Tim finds Joey Crawford hilarious. Duncan was famously ejected by Crawford for laughing at him from the bench during in a regular season game at Dallas late in the 2006-07 season. He would go on to get the last laugh, as the league suspended Crawford for abusing his authority and the Spurs would go on to win their fourth championship that spring.
27. He's secretly a "stretch four." O'Neal always boasts on TNT that despite his poor career free-throw percentage, that he "made them when they counted," a claim I've always found dubious and which was proven to be largely revisionist by NBA.com's John Schuhmann. Duncan, meanwhile, makes the three-pointers that count, as he did in overtime of Game 1 of a playoff series against the Suns in 2008.
28. Duncan thinks Derek Jeter's life was torture.
From Ballard's story:
Great parlor-game discussion: What would have happened if Duncan had been drafted by the Knicks? Would he be the league's marquee name? Or would the spotlight have been too much?
"He'd have been great," says Popovich.
"He would have adapted," says Kerr. "The beat writers would have chased him around for a year and eventually given up."
Says Duncan, "It would have been torture. I probably wouldn't have lasted there very long."
29. Even Tim can't resist trolling Dwight Howard.
30. Duncan pulled a Joe Namath against a team with LeBron James on it. The Heat were two-time defending champions, but Duncan made it clear, in a post-game interview with TNT's David Aldridge after the Spurs vanquished the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, that the Spurs were coming for the king, and they weren't about to miss a second time. To quote Kill Bill's iconic heroine Beatrix Kiddo, "I want him to know that I want him to know."
31. Tim has the most adorable gesture when things go wrong. He just balls up his fists and scrunches his arms together really quick. He does it when he misses a layup, commits a foul, or sits on a plastic cup, courtesy of the wicked Ginobili.
Gonna have to be quicker than that, Tim.
32. Duncan also can't contain himself when he gets good news. No household plant is safe!
33. Tim works overtime against DPOY-worthy bigs. Here he is in Game 3 of the 2013 Western Conference Finals against Marc Gasol. And this is against Serge Ibaka in Game 6 of the 2014 Western Conference Finals at Oklahoma City. Finally, this is him against DeAndre Jordan in Game 2 at the Clippers a few days ago.
34. He is like a boss. Popovich, explaining that he knows where his bread is buttered, via McCarney:
"Every time I walk around the house, once a month, I tell my wife, 'Say thank you, Tim.'"
And there's this, from Stein's feature:
The Spurs' organizational chart doesn't quite flow in the same sort of obvious manner as the Spurs' everyone-gets-a-touch offense.
Especially when you listen to the principals try to explain it.
Pop is widely assumed to be the unquestioned monarch of Spursdom, ahead of even his boss, which is something Mr. Holt isn't in a rush to dispute.
"I'm lucky to work for him," Holt said with a hearty laugh last month.
It sounds good and simple until you hear the stock line from Pop's trusty sidekick Buford, whose scouting eye and knack for finding not only Parker and Ginobili but so many others who've snapped in around Duncan so snugly has been as consistent for nearly two decades as Duncan himself.
"The truth is we all work for Timmy," Buford likes to say.
35. The game made Tim frustrated enough to slap the floor. It took failure late in Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, but at last, Duncan let slip a moment of vulnerability during a game. It was awful.
36. Tim and the fellas made that heartbreaking defeat "okay." After finding redemption against the Heat last spring, Duncan, in a post-game interview with ESPN's Doris Burke, summed up what the team accomplished better than anyone.
37. Duncan has an age-appropriate girlfriend. It's so cliche for successful men to divorce their wives and then date someone young enough to be their child. Michael Jordan's new wife, for example, was 30 when they started dating and he was 46. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a widower, is dating a woman 39 years younger. The lovely Ms. Macias, meanwhile, is only four years younger than Duncan and fully capable of proving Charles Barkley wrong about the women of San Antonio.
38. He can still impress his kids. Tim was getting some quality time with his kids before a home game against the Mavericks in March, just chilling with them on the Spurs bench a couple of minutes before tip-off, when his son challenged him to make a three-pointer from his seat. Duncan picked up a loose ball and casually swished a one-handed 30-footer while sitting and got some dap from his boy.
39. Tim is an excellent dancer. Contrary to what he wrote in Sport, he obviously has rhythm.
h/t to SanAntonioGiant for the GIF
Happy Birthday, Tim. Here's to 39 more years as a Spur.