By: Abe Novy
Tim Duncan ruined basketball for me.
But before I get into that, a little history. I have been a Spurs fan for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I didn’t get to go to a lot of games, so I wasn’t what you’d call a “diehard” fan, but I liked watching when I could, knew about the Iceman and supported my home team. In my early high school days I was more into soccer than basketball because I grew up playing goalie on my local youth soccer team, but I’ll never forget when the Spurs drafted David Robinson in 1987.
Strangely enough, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, Robinson was the first ever number one pick that didn’t play until 2 years after being drafted. The Spurs knew then, as they know now, that sometimes the best things in life are worth waiting for. In his first NBA game he posted a cool 23 points and 17 rebounds against the Lakers and never looked back, coasting to the NBA Rookie Of The Year award after winning Rookie Of The Month every month that season. It was around this time that I really started to become a hardcore fan and learn more about the game. I’d watched before that, seen the amazing play and rivalry between Magic and Bird, admired the beauty of Kareem’s unstoppable sky hook and of course worked my hardest to perfect the finger roll of George Gervin (for the record, I apparently didn’t work hard enough at that), but the Spur’s acquisition of The Admiral made me really pay attention.
For nearly 8 years I suffered through the ups and downs of the Spurs seasons with Robinson at the helm, pun intended. But during those 8 years, I also watched all the basketball around me and became a huge fan of the game. It was during this time that the Chicago Bulls, and this guy you probably never heard of named Michael Jordan, were dominating the league. I met a buddy named Bill Burch at college who was a huge Knicks fan and I grew to love that team as well. Looking back now, it may have been in part due to the fact that Patrick Ewing, like Robinson, was flat out amazing but just wasn’t able to take that giant leap towards winning a championship. At the time, he had the Indiana Pacers and the Chicago Bulls to get through, much like Robinson had the Rockets (Hakeem) and the Jazz (Malone) to get through. But what is 100% certain is that back then I appreciated ALL of what was going on in the league. I mean, I was both a Spurs and a Knicks fan, but I was absolutely in love with how Reggie Miller shot the ball and in awe at how strong guys like Malone and Barkley were down in the post. I loved basketball and I respected all of the players. I hated that my teams didn’t win, but I also could not wait to watch the playoffs (and subsequently see Jordan destroy them all with the flick of his wrist).
And then, it happened.
David Robinson got hurt, the Spurs got hurt even worse because of it, and suddenly we had the #1 pick of the draft. It was no secret that Tim Duncan was the top prospect that year. Keith Van Horn actually went 2nd, and to compare their careers isn’t even fair. The only 2 other players in that draft that made a real name for themselves were Chauncey Billups and Tracy McGrady. Either of them would have been serviceable, but as we know, Coach Pop famously went to the Virgin Islands to spend time with Tim and the rest is history. For Tim’s first 2 seasons, I watched my beloved Spurs and still enjoyed the NBA as a whole. While I wanted SA to win of course, I also realized in 1998 that we were watching greatness when Michael Jordan got his 6th ring and 2nd “three-peat” of his career. The next year was the NBA lockout season, and the Spurs started out 6-8, putting Pop on the hot seat as a coach. The team rallied in their 15th game of the season to beat their in-state rivals, the Houston Rockets, by 17 with all 5 starters scoring in double figures. Legend says that this win saved Pop’s job, but more importantly it propelled them to win 30 of their next 35 and coast through the Western Conference in the playoffs, going 11-1 on their way to the Finals.
They say you always remember your first, although I’m sure that has nothing to do with basketball. But I do remember where I was on Friday, June 25, 1999. I was at a bus stop in Denver, Colorado with my dad, waiting for his bus to take him back to San Antonio. He’d just spent the week helping me move to Denver and I had just spent the evening searching the radio dial for a local AM radio station that carried the Finals’ broadcast. I’ll never forget jumping up and down when Avery Johnson, the guy that my best friend and I affectionately referred to as “Peanut Head”, hit a jumper with 47 seconds left and then defended the remaining time to hold on for our first title. In typical Spurs fan fashion, I got into the car and started honking, much to the dismay of all the non-basketball fans at the bus stop.
And that’s where this story really begins, but the rest of it is pretty simple. For 19 seasons, Tim Duncan slowly but surely ruined basketball for me. He changed me from a guy who loved watching the game, to a guy who lived and died with his team. Winning 5 titles during his rise to BPFE (Best Power Forward Ever) spoiled me completely. But worse, the way he carried himself made every other player in the league look foolish. Here was a guy who could dominate a game at any given moment, and yet he never showed a sign of bravado, always gave the credit to others, and even took pay cuts to help his team get or keep good players around. This took its toll on me in ways I never would have imagined. Suddenly, nobody was as good as him, nor could they ever be. No matter how amazing they were, their flaws shined through (or Spurs fans just made them worse than they were each time they played them). Kobe was a ballhog (among other things). Shaq was from SA but talked shit about David Robinson. Westbrook was a crybaby, and Lebron was a crybaby flopper, as was Harden.
I had lost the appreciation I once had for good, competitive basketball. And then, it happened…again.Tim retired.
Now, while I could easily put Kawhi Leonard on the same type of pedestal that Tim stood on, it’s way too early in his career to do so, and there is so much basketball to enjoy. Even at the time that I am finishing up this article, the Celtics just came back from 21 down on the road in game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals to give the Cavaliers and Lebron their first playoff loss of the postseason and I watched this entire game knowing that my injury-riddled Spurs will likely lose to the Warriors soon and be eliminated from the playoffs. I realized that for the first time in 20 years I was able to exhale and just enjoy a game. I have vowed to watch every Finals game this season, even if I have to use the DVR to do it. Now that Tim is gone, I can finally enjoy the rest of the league again. That is, until Kawhi takes us back to the promised land.