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Tim Duncan’s legacy is secure

Duncan will be remembered as one of the best to ever lace them up, and will stand out even among other members of the Hall of Fame.

1999 McDonalds Open: San Antonio Spurs v Varese Photo by D. Clarke Evans/NBAE via Getty Images

As Tim Duncan gets ready to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, it’s inevitable to reflect on his career. What do you think is Duncan’s legacy? What will he be remembered for 20 years from now?

Marilyn Dubinski: I think his legacy will always be that of a consummate professional and perfect franchise player that anyone would pick on one of those “build your own championship team” exercises: classy, unselfish, a quiet leader that every one wanted to play with, and of course one of the greatest power forwards of all time. However, I also think that if the five years since his retirement have been any indication, he will continue to be slightly underappreciated by non-Spurs fans and younger generations who did not see his prime, only know today’s more offensively-minded game, and underestimate the value of defense.

In 20 years, he will probably continue to be known as a Top 10-15 player and one of the greatest defensive players of all time (despite somehow never winning DPOY), but his offensive game will continue to be undervalued as the game evolves. There shouldn’t be more moments like the Anthony Davis vs. Tim Duncan debate, all stemmed from the former hitting one clutch three during the 2020 playoffs (as if the latter never did), but it will continue to happen because of how today’s game is marketed and with the superstars flocking to bigger markets for glory and attention: something Duncan never did. That being said, he won’t care, and true basketball fans will keep his legacy alive and well.

Mark Barrington: That’s a hard question to answer in just a paragraph or two. He transformed the game in a deceptively quiet way. He was the best player in the league for most of the time he was on the court, and he made his team the best team for 18 years. He was an elite athlete, but also an elite leader and innovator in the game. He was subversive, using his quiet demeanor to hide the fact that he was taking over the game. It’s weird to say this about a guy who’s entering the hall of fame, but he was always underappreciated, and underrated. Partly because he was understated, but also because he understood how to play the long game, and never made the game about him, even when it was. He’ll be remembered 20 years from now as a winner, who took a small market team to the finals 6 times and won 5 of them.

Bruno Passos: Duncan’s legacy is expansive and hard to summarize, but I think one part that seems to still be evolving is just how much of what San Antonio did in that two-decade span was because of him rather than him being propped up by his circumstances. There used to be more of a push that if, say, Kevin Garnett and Duncan had swapped situations that Garnett would’ve had the same number of rings because of how ideal an organization the Spurs are. But Pop has said it again recently—“No Duncan, no championships”—and the past few years have confirmed that having a singular superstar like Duncan in the huddle and on the court, in teammates’ ears and in partnership with the coaching staff, was an irreplaceable element for the sustained success here. What he accomplished on an individual level are enough to vault him into the top 10 consideration, but when you start splitting hairs between him and the other greats, as you kinda have to do when you argue these things, it helps that he was the quintessence of winning for one of the sport’s great dynasties. (And then you can argue about what a dynasty is.)

Jesus Gomez: I think Duncan’s legacy is tied to his sustained excellence at the individual level and his commitment to one franchise, which is why I think that he’s going to get more reverence as the years go by. Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but when the next generation, which will not remember Duncan’s latter, more earthly years, takes a look at his numbers and watches his most dominant performances, they will be enthralled by this guy that had as good a peak as any all-time top-15 player, and then will be surprised by his extensive success at the team level. The fact that he did it all without moving franchises could also be something that will differentiate him from other greats from the past and very likely the future, since most of this generation’s superstars have moved around.

Should the fact that Duncan had a long career and only played for the Spurs really matter that much when discussing his greatness, considering he simply, unquestionably was one of the best players of all time? Not really, but legacies are about narratives and Duncan will have a good one on his side.

J.R. Wilco: Legacies of players are as much about perspective as they are about the person, and most of the momentum I’ve noticed since Timmy hung them up is about how much of a teacher he was of — even with opponents as he played them, how it was impossible to unsettle him, and about how his trash talk was unique in all the league.

As time lends additional distance and therefore perspective, the man who was once known internationally as the Stone Budda is being rediscovered as being just as fun-loving and funny as he was fundamental. When combined with his abilities that allowed him to repeatedly reinvent himself to meet the demands of the game and the players on his team — while keeping his statistics essentially stable even as he played his way towards 40 — it’s the multiple natures of Duncan that will endure. Timeless skills, ultimate competitor, perennial winner, goofball.