SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Tim Duncan brought more than gaudy numbers night after night for 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.
Fittingly, while the Spurs retired Duncan’s No. 21 on Sunday night, those stats rarely came up.
“I don’t even want to talk about rebounds or points and all that sort of things,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “This individual made it possible for everybody that we brought in to be a part of this culture and be a part of the program.”
Duncan’s jersey was raised to the AT&T Center rafters in a ceremony following a 113-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. His number now hangs not far from banners celebrating the five NBA championships he and the Spurs won during his career.
“I’ve gotten just an amazing response and just an overwhelming amount of love from these guys of what I meant to them,” Duncan said during a five-minute speech. “It doesn’t even explain how much they meant to me. I got so much more from you guys, from my teammates, than they can explain that they got from me. I know that.”
With his son, daughter and girlfriend by his side, Duncan listened and laughed as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili ribbed and praised their longtime teammate.
Ginobili and Parker teased Duncan about his attire after he chose to wear black slacks and a sports coat instead of his normal jeans and a T-shirt. Duncan was clearly out of his comfort level, and it had nothing to do with the suit. The Virgin Islands native spent his career avoiding the spotlight, and the retirement ceremony put him squarely in it.
Duncan was left speechless at points by cheers and shouts of “we love you!” He pounded his heart with the microphone as the crowd roared.
The ceremony even left him and Popovich — two guarded fixtures during San Antonio’s two-decade run of dominance — fighting back tears.
“Thank you coach Pop for being more than a coach,” Duncan said, pausing to choke back emotions, “for being like a father to me. Thank you.”
Duncan became the eighth player to have his jersey number retired by the Spurs, joining James Silas, George Gervin, Johnny Moore and former teammates David Robinson, Sean Elliott, Avery Johnson and Bruce Bowen.
“This stretch for the Spurs of 25 years of excellence, Tim is at the center of the whole thing,” Robinson said. “I don’t know that there’s another athlete that’s as appreciated by a city as Tim.”
Duncan helped lead San Antonio to its only NBA championships and was twice named league MVP. As dominant as he was in the regular season, Duncan was at his best in the postseason. He averaged 20.6 points, 11.4 points, 2.3 blocks and 3.0 assists in the playoffs and has the most career double-doubles in the postseason with 164.
It was his work off the court that made him so beloved by Popovich and teammates.
Ginobili recalled being devastated after he turned the ball over on a game-winning attempt in a loss in Game 3 of the 2006 playoffs against the Sacramento Kings.
Ginobili locked himself in his hotel room and refused to answer the phone even though it was continually ringing. After hanging up twice and pulling the cord out of the wall, Ginobili was stunned to hear a second phone go off in the bathroom.
“By the fifth time, I go pick it up, I said ‘What?'” Ginobili said. “And it was ‘Nanuuuuu.’ That’s what he called me. ‘Nanu,’ he said, ‘What’s up buddy?’ ‘What TD? I don’t want to talk to anybody.’ He said, ‘Come on, come with me. Come with me.’ He started insisting and insisting and insisting and you don’t say no to Timmy. He invited me to dinner. We talked for hours, we talked about computers, cars, TV shows. My mental state shifted and I had a way better night.”
The Spurs won that series in six games thanks in part to the message Duncan delivered: we’re all in this together.
That’s the way it was for Duncan and the Spurs from the day he was taken first overall in the 1997 draft, according to Popovich.
“I can honestly say to Mr. and Mrs. Duncan, who have passed,” Popovich said, “that that man right there is exactly the same person now as he was when he walked in the door.”
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