There have been three full NBA regular seasons since Tim Duncan announced his retirement, and it still feels weird to not see Duncan suit up for the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich is still there, but there really isn’t anything else tying the franchise to Duncan’s incredible career. Duncan is one of those players who you have to be direct about what their legacy means: Duncan isn’t one of the greatest power forwards ever, he is the greatest power forward ever. There are no arguments that can be made about whether he’s one of the five greatest players ever; there are some to be made about why he belongs at the top of the list.
There really isn’t anything Duncan didn’t accomplish. He won five titles, multiple Finals MVPs, multiple regular season MVPs, All-Star games, an All-Star game MVP, All-NBA nods and a rookie of the year award just begin to scratch the surface of what Duncan accomplished. He wasn’t just the face of the Spurs for two whole decades, but he was the living embodiment of the franchise ethos —to think about what the Spurs represented was to think about Duncan.
It’s damn near impossible to synthesize Duncan’s career into five moments, but for his birthday, we’re going to try. These aren’t necessarily the five best of his career, but these are five of our favorite moments of a truly legendary ball player.
5. Duncan’s first career playoff game
If the Rookie of the Year award wasn’t enough to convince you that Duncan was on his way to becoming a truly special player, the very first playoff game of his career should have rung the alarm. Against the Phoenix Suns, Duncan dropped a 32-10, double-double in a 102-96 win. Duncan also added an assist, a steal and two blocks in a game where David Robinson also recorded 26 points and 15 rebounds. The Spurs would upset the 4th-seeded Suns in four games and eventually lose to the Utah Jazz, the Western Conference reps in the NBA Finals, in the second round.
4. Tim Duncan drops 53 in Dallas
It was just a normal, late December regular season game against two divisional and intra-state rivals. The San Antonio Spurs headed north to Dallas on the day after Christmas for a matchup that would turn into a three-on-one shootout. For Dallas, Michael Finley, Steve Nash, and Dirk Nowitzki scored 28, 27 and 26 points, respectively. Tim Duncan took on the challenge and dropped a career-high 53 points in a thrilling overtime loss. Duncan added 11 rebounds, four assists and three blocks with an other-worldly 140 offensive rating. Duncan wasn’t necessarily known as a scorer, but he got all of the buckets on that fateful night in Dallas.
3. The quadruple-double that wasn’t
On the biggest stage, Tim Duncan had one of the biggest nights of his career: a 21 point, 20 rebound, 10 assist and eight blocks performance in Game 6 of the 2003 NBA Finals. It may be the most dominant, all around closeout game in NBA Finals history. The craziest part is that Duncan had two more blocks that you can see very clearly on film that somehow weren’t added to the final box score. Duncan technically had a quadruple-double to close out the Nets of the NBA Finals, a feat that’s never been accomplished (and still technically hasn’t) since the official scorer didn’t tally those blocks. One of the blocks (5:38 mark), you see Duncan swatting the ball out-of-bounds, but it was counted as a deflection as the scorer didn’t think Kerry Kittles was trying to shoot. On the second (5:55 mark), David Robinson is given the block when it was actually Duncan. Regardless, it was an incredible performance and the real ones know it was a quadruple-double.
2. Duncan gets ejected for laughing
For those who followed Tim Duncan’s career from the jump, one of the biggest things he was known for was not having too many highs or too many lows. He was expressionless for much of his career, going about his business without doing anything too flashy or bringing too much attention to himself. That’s why when Duncan was not only seen laughing while on the bench but ejected for laughing by referee Joey Crawford, NBA fans absolutely lost it. There was no reason for the ejection, but the fact that this was the kind of thing to happen to Duncan makes it all the more memorable.
1. The 2014 Finals Run
It’s only fitting that the top Tim Duncan moment is a moment that isn’t exclusively about him because that’s what his whole career was about. Of the five titles that Duncan won, the 2014 Finals was the best basketball the Spurs had played over the course of a season, and over the course of a single series. While the NBA was transitioning from the Suns 7 Seconds or Less era to the Warriors space-and-pace era, the Spurs 2014 season was a happy medium of the two philosophies and was maybe the most beautiful brand of basketball ever. The Finals win was huge for this Spurs team as they had lost the year before in one of the most soul-crushing ways to the Miami Heat. To not only see the Heat in the next year, but beat them in one of the best-played 7-game series was a fitting end to an era.