Yan Xin’s Aricle
By Harvey Araton
New York Times, Feb 14, 2015
Tim Duncan did not sound overjoyed to be in New York for his 15th N.B.A. All-Star weekend, or maybe it was more the company he was forced to keep late Friday morning.
“I enjoy the game; all the rest of the stuff I can do without,” he said during his mandatory news media session. “I don’t like this whole situation, but it is what it is; it’s what comes with the game.”
Someone braved the question that Duncan has stonewalled for nearly two decades as the centerpiece of the San Antonio winning machine: What is it about addressing the masses that he finds so objectionable?
“I don’t have that kind of time,” he said with a straight face that was his attempt at deadpan humor or, more likely, a cold, hard fact.
The interview proceeded with Duncan providing mostly clipped answers in a dedicated monotone, his delivery a cross between Derek Jeter (cautious) and Bill Belichick (curt). On the plus side, he stayed to the end and never said he was there only to avoid being fined.
No Marshawn Lynch is this proud five-time champion and perhaps the least celebrated all-timer in the history of the sport.
Some would argue that Duncan has been his own worst enemy in that regard. But at the level he has played, must we really require the athlete to show and tell? Have we not learned all we need to know about Duncan by watching him execute Coach Gregg Popovich’s playbook with a surgeon’s care and be the first to greet a thriving teammate with that familiar, playful pat on the head?
“One of the best teammates I ever had,” said Golden State’s Steve Kerr, a jump-shooting specialist with the Spurs for four seasons and two championships and Duncan’s coach with the Western Conference All-Stars for Sunday night’s game. “Incredibly confident with his game but humble with his approach, always taking the criticism for the rest of us.
“He’d come into the locker room after a loss and he’d say, ‘My fault,’ and you’d look at the stats and he’s got 38 points and 24 rebounds. Pretty sure it wasn’t your fault, Tim.”
Maybe blame is not really the issue regarding Duncan, who is widely respected but not quite revered outside South Texas. Had he been playing in New York, his quiet dignity and resolve would have made him the second coming of Willis Reed. But, yes, it’s also been his decision to treat the self-promotional side of the business somewhere on the torture scale between root canal and waterboarding.
“He doesn’t have the same sort of reputation as Magic, Michael and Larry because he’s so low-key,” Kerr said, referring to Johnson, Jordan and Bird. “The charisma those guys had, the endorsements, made them global icons. Tim prefers to go about his business and play.”
Casual and younger fans don’t see sex appeal in a player nicknamed the Big Fundamental. If nuance appealed to the masses, existentialist indie films would fill the multiplex instead of shootouts and car crashes. But N.B.A. coaches who select the substitutes should want to honor Duncan’s consistency, his longevity, every chance they get.
Yet last season, which conceivably could have been Duncan’s last, they left him off the All-Star team only months after he came within seconds of a title in Miami and months before he would win that elusive fifth ring 15 years after claiming his first.
Oh, but Duncan would rather have had the time off, go to the beach, went the rationale of those who weren’t appalled by the slight. All probably true, but that still was no excuse for not extending the invitation.
Nets Coach Lionel Hollins recently lobbied for Commissioner Adam Silver to add Kevin Garnett to this year’s Eastern Conference roster in recognition of career achievement. Garnett’s late-career performance is nowhere near Duncan’s, but it wasn’t a bad idea. It’s an All-Star Game, not an election to Congress. One such appointment per squad would hardly change the game’s dynamic.
Duncan said being selected as a substitute by the coaches meant more than the fans’ popularity contest to choose the starters. He didn’t expect it, he said, “but it’s an honor, them believing that I am still of All-Star caliber.”
At 38, he is averaging 14.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocks, still doing all those intangible things, while playing at less than 100 percent. Popovich recently told reporters: “I mean, if you watch him, he walks with a limp. His leg doesn’t extend. So how does the guy play? I still ask myself that.”
In the final year of his contract, will Duncan play on beyond this season? He won’t say, though he acknowledged that quitting crossed his mind last summer.
Why didn’t he?
“If I walked away just to say I walked away on a high point, then that’s letting somebody else dictate what I do,” he said.
Right to the end, he will be stubbornly aloof. But on the New York stage for what feels like his All-Star farewell, Duncan does deserve some of the love that typically goes to the shoe-company pitchmen, even if it won’t be for a “SportsCenter” highlight.
“I can’t dunk anymore,” he lied when asked who he’d like to poster-ize Sunday.
So make it for the crisp high screen, the perfect positional defense, the timely outlet pass. The selfless likes of Tim Duncan shall not pass this way again any time soon.