A new video by Ben Taylor substantiates what I have always felt when having “Big Fun” watching basketball.
The greatest winner I have experienced in more than 25 years of watching NBA basketball is Michael Jordan. I never wanted him to win, but he always did. And I always knew he would — that is, in the four finals series that I’m old enough to have experienced. Ever since, no other player, at least to me, exuded Jordan’s aura of invincibility. Not Shaq, not Kobe, not LeBron. One came close though, and he played in Silver & Black for 19 years — Tim Duncan.
Let me emphasize, I’m talking about my personal perception here, and nothing besides my personal perception. I’m also talking about a phase in my history as a follower of NBA basketball, in which I knew less about the sport than I know today.
My knowledge has been greatly enhanced over the last ten years, by reading PtR posts and comments (without contributing) for quite a few years, by listening to Nate Duncan’s podcasts, by and reading John Hollinger’s articles. In short, the internet has expanded my knowledge of the game greatly.
Although I wasn’t less enthusiastic about the game in Duncan’s heyday, I was less educated. One early Saturday morning in June 1999 around six o’clock, I was ecstatically bouncing around my parents’ yard. They were on holiday and I was sixteen. Our neighbor, Berthold, an early riser, knew my sister and I were alone in the house. He came over to ask me if everything was alright.
What had happened?
Well, I had just watched the San Antonio Spurs beat the New York Knicks for the NBA title. I had watched Tim Duncan celebrating the title by walking the hardwood of Madison Square Garden with a camera in his hand. I had listened to the co-commentator of the game, German handball legend Stefan Kretzschmar — a cool guy, he had crazy hair and, like me, listened to metal — complain about Duncan’s lack of enthusiasm celebrating his first ring. Kretzschmar said something like: “I don’t like that. Remember how ecstatic Jordan was when he won his sixth ring last year? Now we are going to see this handy cam thing for the next couple of years. Duncan knows he’s already the best.”
I couldn’t care less that Kretzschmar wasn’t amused. But I believed him. I got the impression the Spurs were destined to dominate. It all made sense to me. Because Kretzschmar said so, because the other German commentators said so, and, most of all, because I wanted it that way.
Going into the next season, I was dead-sure the Spurs were going to repeat. Who could stop the Twin Towers? Well, something called injury to Duncan, as it turned out. The year later it was something called Kobe and Shaq. I said to myself it wasn’t them, it was Robinson getting too old. One year later, it was the same pair again – though Duncan was hands-down the best player in that series.
I thought: Maybe Duncan won his first title too early? Or maybe it was a Duncan-Robinson title on equal terms? After all, Jordan was 27 when he won his first — and Duncan was 26 when he won his second. And if it wasn’t for two things that I don’t care to remember in 2004 and 2006, I guess Big Fun would have five-peated.
No, I am not telling you this because I want to rewrite history. I don’t understand people who go that route. (For one thing, I hate it whenever the GOAT discussion becomes bigger than the game.) The only reason I’m telling you this is to express how I always felt when Duncan was in his prime.
I always thought San Antonio was going to win. A bit like I always felt the team that faced Jordan in the Finals was always going to lose. It wasn’t my eye test (not yet good enough), let alone advanced metrics, that led me to this impression. It was ... the emotional test?
I had never even heard the term “advanced metrics” when Duncan won his fourth. In retrospect, my best idea of that to me was that Duncan had never been scoring champ, had, past his rookie season, never played with another player that averaged more than 20 points. And yet Duncan’s teams won so many games, so many titles. And he made me feel the Spurs were always favorites, at least until he was past 30.
What advanced metrics are I learned mainly through three guys, two of whom I already mentioned. The third guy in my personal advanced metrics triumvirate is a certain Ben Taylor. He hosts the “Thinking Basketball” podcast and also does a video series on YouTube. It’s called “The greatest peaks”. The 12th episode aired this week. It’s dedicated to Tim Duncan. And it showed me that my emo test wasn’t all wrong. Duncan had one of the greatest peaks in NBA history. If you haven’t watched the video, please do so. It’s worth it.