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How Tim Duncan's most heartbreaking defeat brought him closer to fans

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...and brought fans closer to him

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Imperfection

On a day of looking back, I kept thinking about the one that got away.  The painful one.  2013.  I have frankly avoided thinking about it for a couple of years now, other than as a hiccup on the way to 2014.  But with Duncan's unceremonious press release yesterday, it reared its ugly head again, and I thought what a shame it is that he could so easily have had six rings.  He'd be tied with Jordan.  He'd be perfect in Finals appearances, like Jordan.  It would put him squarely above Kobe Bryant in the conversation about all time greats.  I hate those conversations!  And it was so maddeningly close.  A free throw in Game 6 would have done it.  Maybe Timmy being on the floor on that last play of Game 6 would have been just enough.  Timmy laying in that chippy in Game 7 may have done it, too.  So close, yet just short of perfection.

But late last night my mind went a different direction after reading so much wonderful stuff from all corners of webdom and fandom about our beloved Timmy.  He certainly suffered in that series.  Maybe he, too remembers it regretfully as the one that got away, but I doubt it, and even if he does, he's not saying.  There is a stoicism about the man that I think swallows victory and defeat with equanimity, and that's part of why we admire him.  Late last night longtime PtR member transgojobot posted a still from a rather stoic moment from the great Akira Kurosawa film The Seven Samurai.  It is a moment that exemplifies calm perseverance amidst turmoil.  I think the ethos of the samurai captures the stoic persistence of Duncan and Pop and the culture they have created and nurtured with the Spurs.  And that image changed my line of thinking about 2013 and where it fits in my understanding of Tim Duncan, our greatest warrior, now done fighting.

In traditional Japanese culture, there is a principle known as wabi-sabi, the acceptance of transience and imperfection.  An artist abiding by the notion of wabi-sabi isn't striving to make a perfect piece of art.  Rather, imperfection is highly valued.  Life and all of nature are, after all, temporary.  Nature lacks perfect symmetry.  Wabi-sabi art aims to reflect the beauty and truth of this natural imperfection.  It doesn't try to outshine nature, but invites the viewer back into nature, into the real world of rough edges and flaws.  And if we are going to turn Timmy into a storybook hero, then it seems to me this is the kind of story he gave us.

He isn't perfect.  He doesn't fly above us like a superhero.  He's flawed and vulnerable and human, like each of us.  Maybe in his younger days he demolished all competition, but he hasn't been young for a long time.  No, instead what will endure about Duncan is his endurance in the face of vulnerability, loss, age, and infirmity.  What makes him great is the spirit he demonstrated after his gifts diminished.  Endurance and courage among good friends.

Which brings me back to 2013.  Never was Tim Duncan more human to us than in the waning moments and aftermath of that Finals series.  And for that, I will be forever grateful.  He is famously private, but that series broke down much of the facade that he placed between himself and the rest of us.  We all shared in his suffering.

It was so painful we wanted to look away.  But I for one can finally say that I am grateful for that series.  The dagger three, the missed free throws, the benching, all of it.  From the vantage point of a perfect story, 2013 gave us the greatest storybook seasons ever with the cathartic and joyous year that followed.  But beyond that, I can honestly say I am thankful for the loss itself.  I am grateful for that series as a thing in itself, not only as a prelude to a dream season.  2013 peeled away the armor and let us grieve with Tim Duncan.

Without that loss, Duncan finishes his career with all of us at arm's length.  Without that loss, he's so much more perfect. Without that loss, he is a little bit more our superior.  With the loss, he is a little bit more our brother.  Without the loss we just admire him.  With the loss we can love him.