Duncan comes back for the fun of it

VIDEO: Tim Duncan opts to return

Tim Duncan has said for several years now that he would stop playing basketball when it was no longer fun.

Did you see Duncan in the Game 5 clincher against the Heat? Making buckets, making plays and making sure that he nodded appreciatively at his teammates.

Did you see Duncan after Game 5 and the fifth championship was complete? Standing as the confetti rained down from the rafters, helping Kawhi Leonard adjust his one-size-fits-all cap like a proud big brother, hugging and dancing and laughing with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, exchanging that knowing look with coach Gregg Popovich.

It’s still fun.

That’s why there was never really a doubt that the 38-year-old would exercise the contract option and return in the fall for his 18th NBA season. Thoughtful, introspective and deliberate, Duncan knows that these are the kind of experiences that he’ll never be able to duplicate once he takes off that Spurs jersey for the final time and steps outside the locker room.

The sports landscape is filled with stories of the athletes who stayed too long and did damage to their reputations at a time when their skills had faded. That was the thought behind those who suggested that Duncan could and should go out on top.

But it’s easy for us on the outside to say that enough is enough and it’s time for a player of Duncan’s stature to simply walk away from a game that has given him so much pleasure, such sheer joy and satisfaction for the largest part of his life.

If there is a plain and simple goal, it is for Duncan to come back with his teammates and try to do the one thing that has eluded the Spurs in their 15-year span of excellence — go back-to-back. Take one more shot and claim one more Larry O’Brien Trophy next June and the Spurs will slam the door shot on even the last bit of criticism from the nitpickers about their worthiness to be called a dynasty.

However, there is also the matter of just not wanting to leave one last drop of that shared camaraderie in the bottom of the bottle before walking away.

In his wonderful biography on Michael Jordan The Life by Roland Lazenby, the author tells the story of coach Phil Jackson asking each of the Bulls to write down a thought, a memory, a poem, anything about their experience and bring it to the team’s final practice at what they all knew was the end of the road in 1998. After each player stood up and spoke his memory, Jackson gathered all of the slips of paper, put them in a can and lit them on fire with a match.

“They’re ours,” he told the Bulls.

That’s what ties a true team, the shared work and sweat and practices and games and unique bonds that can make a champion. And no matter what successes Duncan — or any of them — can accomplish after their playing careers are through, it will never be this.

If Duncan was concerned with his age and the sharp edges coming off his game, he would have walked away in 2011 when the Spurs were eliminated in the first round by Memphis and Duncan looked tired, spent.

Instead, he rededicated himself to getting back into shape, a different kind of shape. He changed his body, shedding weight and making himself more lithe. Then he returned to a Spurs team where Popovich asked him to change his game, moving out from an existence in the low post and giving up his role as the centerpiece of the offense to Parker.

It was still a challenge, still motivating, still a reason to get up in the morning. Still doable, as the fifth championship attests.

Look at the photos of Duncan all through the Spurs’ march through the playoffs and tell me he was ever going anywhere but back to the locker room in October.

It’s still fun. The only reason that matters.


  1. Rumbero says:

    If Timmy Considers the way he plays having fun, let him have all the fun he wants. Its got him 5 tittles. Have all the fun you want Timmy and bring home another ring. You earned it.

  2. Carlo says:

    @ NoMilitaryCoup:

    You’re misunderstanding what “fun” means here.

    It’s not the “fun” usually had by the always-joking Dwight Howard. That won’t be allowed by Popovich and won’t fit into the Spurs’ Way.

    Here, “fun” is taking interest in making difficult things work, in learning new “tricks” even if you’re an old dog, in reaching ever more distant heights. It takes personality and, most of all, intelligence.

  3. KingdomMan says:

    I wonder how KG REALLY feels when all of this (much deserved) praise is being heaped on his arch nemesis…especially since the Big Ticket is now officially washed up…

    • Celtics fan says:

      Yes it is really unfair how Duncan is still successful at 38 while KG can’t even play more than 20 minutes per game at the same age
      KG relied in his athleticism his whole career, carried his team for 12 years all by himself and after the 2009 injury he wasn’t the same player offensively.
      Duncan on the other hand isn’t relying on his athleticism too much but he has great footwork, he didn’t need to carry his whole team by himself, he never got any career changing injury and he has Pop.

  4. ramigoose48 says:

    God will let him know when to stop…….

  5. KratosRage says:

    The man can still play 2-3 years more no doubt. But we have to respect the man and be glad that he will give final shot for greatness. Much respect to Timmy and with the lineup SPURS have, another championship will be the cherry on the sundae. Rock n roll SPURS!!!

  6. NoMilitaryCoup says:

    Pop doesnt play for fun, retire if you want to play for fun.

    • Rumbero says:

      Your talking about the champ my man. One of the greatest power forwards in NBA history, if not the greatest. He can decide when he’s ready to leave. And with the way he played through out these playoffs he can surely come back. Fun and all. Besides i don’t think Pop would want to part way with him. He knows the game, and fun or not, he plays it the way basketball should be played. Teams and all those so called superstars need to learn from him and the Spurs. Got it

  7. Julesjulius says:

    NICE! !