More often than not, things tend to be ephemeral. Fleeting before our eyes, they either fizzle and pass or burn like a star before flaming out in a spectacular but vacancy-inducing supernova. This is the cycle.
This can be love, it can be friendships, it can be jobs, and status, and earthly things…but it can never be Tim Duncan. "Death. Taxes. And Tim Duncan," they all said. It’s a refrain that symbolizes the hopes and dreams of a San Antonio Spurs fanbase whose anxiety that it one day may end has been staved for years.
Death, taxes, and Tim Duncan. That Old Man Riverwalk. Likened to the White Walkers from George R. R. Martin’s "A Song of Ice and Fire" universe because he and his cohorts seemed to be ancient, perpetual, persistent, and unsolvable. Sure you may send your Valyrian Westbrook, or a shard of Zach Randolph-shaped Dragonglass to the heart of the moment, but no one in the NBA universe thought it was a permanent solution. Duncan’s persistent greatness and unbelievable selflessness propelled the Spurs into an era that wasn’t his. But just ask the 2014 Mavericks and Heat, or even last year’s Clippers whether "what is dead may never die?"
There are so many iconic moments to recall. The youthful vigor next to another icon, years removed from his own indefatigable prime. "If only he can reach the heights and class of David," we foolishly dreamed. "David is a Top-50 player of all time after all, and a top-5 human being." Watching clips of him then, precocious yet already refined, and juxtaposing against the Tim of now: graying and weathered, with a mind as transcendent as it’s ever been, but attached to a body that can’t quite fell the trees of Ibaka and Adams like he would have in his prime. It reminds us of grandparents. Of Grandfathers from another era: tougher men. Of better men than we could ever hope to be. Strong men. Honorable men. Giant men. All gone gently into that good night, rage as futile as a center switched onto a hard-charging Westbrook.
The MVP Seasons. The NBA Finals against a valiant Nets team that was met by Tim Duncan, force of nature. LeBron 1.0. The charged meetings against the Lakers, Suns, and Mavericks. The clutch game winners. The unrelenting waves of 27-14 and 4 blocks. The unbelievable late career (and body) transformation from a planetary force to a whole gravitational solar system. The later career years. The Heat saga. The Shakespearean-redemption of the Floor Slap followed by the reckoning coming due.
There are so many moments and parables encapsulated in the Tim Duncan narrative of The One that Was, the One that Is, and the One that will forever be remembered. Tim and his merry band of brothers taught us to lose with class and to win with grace. To fight with everything inside of us against the obstacles set in our path. That at times we would overcome in glorious fashion—replete with confetti, banners, and parades—and sometimes adversity would momentarily get the better of us. But remembering how vital it is to return stronger than before.
A private man off the court, and a somewhat stoic player on it (I’ve never quite comprehended the idea that he is emotionless—Duncan is incredibly emotional— but he's not pedantic with his passion or flamboyant with his fury), the glimpses of Duncan’s true life that we were lucky enough to catch are what will stick with me. The prankster, the nerd, the kernel-of-truth character created in the Onion, the Big Brother, the Father.
His example taught us the importance of the things that really mattered: our relationship with family. Getting an education. The importance of putting every piece of ourselves into whatever we attach our name to. Greatness. Personal responsibility. Proving yourself with your actions because words are small. Never basing your value or worth on the things other people are or aren't saying about you.
These are the lessons I will teach my children. And these were the things that defined Duncan's career—that define his legacy. A player—a man—who understood the way the game, the way life, should be played.
A moment that keeps circling to the front of mind as I try to describe the career of a legend:
Duncan, mired in the rare off-court controversy that involved a personal betrayal, clung tightly to his two young children with the same passion and devotion that Jordan hugged his first Larry O’Brien. And in that moment we saw what made Tim Duncan who he was. A perfect fit into an organization that prioritized things familial. We saw what made an all-time player/coach relationship in the "Family Business" of Gregg Popovich. You saw it in the kindly, supportive brother that Duncan seemed to be in stepping back and preparing the way for the future. It is the man—legend that he is—that will be the greatest cornerstone of the future immediately following him (if he does choose to add a punctuation to this story).
David laid the foundation, Tim built on it. Whether he sticks around in some kind of organizational presence, or finds that perfect, secluded Virgin Island beach, Tim Duncan will always be. He will be in the corners of the locker room and in the corners of the minds of Spurs for generations to come.
No matter his decision, his presence will be inescapable. Like Death. And Taxes.