There was some extra intrigue when it came to this year’s Hall of Fame speeches, mostly centered around the NBA inductees. Would we only get to hear about Kobe, the basketball player, from Vanessa Bryant? Would Kevin Garnett start randomly yelling at some point? And more relevant, at least for Spurs fans, would Tim Duncan speak for more than 30 seconds?
Reality clashed with those expectations, to a degree. Kobe got mythologized and humanized in equal parts, Garnett was funny and lighthearted, and Tim Duncan, the man who avoided speaking whenever he could as a player, gave a long, eloquent speech during which he looked perfectly comfortable.
There always should be some apprehension about taking people’s words on these type of events at face value, but all three of Bryant, Garnett and Duncan essentially reaffirmed that these larger than life figures are simultaneously as complex and as simple as any other person. The elevated side we saw from them while they were competing is there, but there is much more to them, just like there is to everyday people.
Weirdly, it can be a little disappointing to realize that these titanic figures are just regular dudes. It goes against the narrative that they are special not in just athletic prowess, but a more essential way. The idea of Kobe as a loving family man clashes with the image of the ruthless competitor in the same way that watching Garnett crack jokes feels surreal when you solely know him as an almost psychotically intense man incapable of relaxing.
The special thing about Duncan is that while other icons are typically brought down to the level of mortals by these revaluations about their personalities, Timmy is elevated from the almost blank persona he cultivated and the media embraced.
Duncan has been called a robot more times than any player, apart from another recent Spur. He was always guarded with reporters, almost making sure to never give them anything of substance to work with. He seemed to take pride in never showing emotion. Most of the more interesting or sentimental stories about his life that we got to hear came from early in his NBA life. The hurricane that forced him into basketball, the passing of his mother, his first encounter with Pop — they all help delineate the Duncan we know, but after his origin story, we mostly saw his superhero journey from afar, with very few glimpses of who he was when he was not saving the day, one bank shot at a time.
It was fine. San Antonio and Spurs fans in general understood that he wanted things to be that way and accepted and embraced the quiet superstar Duncan deliberately decided to be. In a strange way, it made the small, prosaic nuggets of information about him that leaked more interesting. Timmy liked video games, comic books and fast cars! He organized paintball matches with his friends! He supported a local politician! He got divorced and started dating! All those tidbits are insanely normal and almost boring compared to the things we know about other athletes, but for fans of Duncan they offered just enough texture to complete the picture of their idol.
But what about non-Spurs fans? Duncan has opened up more recently since his more hermetic days, and we’ve heard more from his teammates about him, but sometimes it feels like people don’t talk about him as much as other superstars because they feel there’s not much to talk about. One of the major concerns when discussing Duncan’s potential legacy revolves around whether there will be enough mythology surrounding him to hold the imagination of future generations. An almost shockingly normal Hall of Fame speech won’t change that, but maybe it will help change the narrative about Tim Duncan. The monosyllabic robot can not only talk at length but command the attention of a room that had other, more theoretically interesting orators lined up.
Some will not be happy about Duncan slowly becoming less of a mystery because they are attached to the silent assassin persona, the emotionless basketball automaton hellbent on winning. It’s understandable, since it’s sometimes shocking to see retired athletes that used to feel larger than life become dorky dads (looking at you, Manu Ginobili) or embrace a more quiet life (when’s the last time you heard much of anything about Tony Parker?). With Duncan, his venture into assistant coach duty, with the stylish suits and eccentric haircut, offered the realization that he was not going to become a hermit after retirement, that a lot of what we thought we knew about a man we watched play for two decades was just a small piece of the puzzle. A part of the fanbase will probably prefer to hold on to the more incomplete but familiar picture.
For others, being slowly invited to discover more about a person we cared about in such a real but inevitably one-sided way for so long is actually exciting. Everyone would be fine with Tim Duncan deciding to never speak publicly again, because that’s what most of us expected him to do, but if he wants to open up for 12-minute speeches more often, we won’t complain. We want to hear what the man that for so long refused to talk has to say, even if it’s not anything too revelatory.
Idols are interesting, but not nearly as much as real people. We know all we need to know about Tim Duncan, the Hall of Fame basketball player. If he wants to let us know more about Tim Duncan, the person, we are all here for it.