Tim Duncan will be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame on Saturday. The San Antonio Spurs legend amassed five NBA championships and two MVP awards, and he made the playoffs every year of his long career with the Spurs from 1997 to 2016.
But those who know him say he would never brag about those statistics. Duncan is being celebrated in San Antonio for his work ethic, humble nature, unorthodox style, and all the joy he brought to the city.
Madeline Mendoza feels lucky to have grown up in the 90’s in San Antonio, cheering on the Spurs just as Tim Duncan came to town.
“I remember sitting by myself on the couch watching the Spurs play, and I had tiny socks that had the Fiesta logo on them, and I didn’t really know what was going on but I was tallying every point that was made,” she said.
Mendoza, now a reporter for MySA.com, wrote an article this week titled “Tim Duncan shaped my childhood in San Antonio. I wish my kids had the same experience.”
“Speaking for myself and I think a lot of other 90’s kids, Tim Duncan and the Spurs were a part of so many happy memories,” she told TPR, “As a kid, you have DisneyLand, Disney World — all these cool shows and events. For us, it’s Tim Duncan.”
Mendoza recalled almost two decades of the city’s annual Fiesta celebrations doubling as a celebration of Duncan and the Spurs as they made deep runs in the playoffs year after year.
“Tim Duncan was the superhero,” she said, “And it’s such a weird bittersweet feeling to know that now he is a part of sports history.”
Duncan will no doubt go down as one of the greatest power forwards of all time but he didn’t always look the part.
Mendoza said she thinks he may have been overlooked as a national celebrity in part because of his style, often wearing oversized cargo shorts and button down shirts.
He wasn’t flashy on the court either. His signature move was the mid-range bank shot.
“One of the things that makes it so special is it’s so rare,” said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich at an open media press conference.
“Not many people really use that to any degree,” he added. “So his size, on top of shooting the bank shot, was a pretty special thing. It was one of the first fundamental things that everybody noticed about him.”
So much of Duncan’s path to NBA superstardom is unorthodox. Duncan grew up in the Virgin Islands, and aspired to be a swimmer but the only Olympic sized pool on his Caribbean island was destroyed in a hurricane.
So he began swimming in the ocean but he was afraid of sharks. So, in the 9th grade, he turned to basketball.
Popovich, who drafted Duncan #1 overall in 1997, joked that he was glad it worked out that way.
“That’s something that we’re all very happy about,” he said. “We still toast him when we have dinners we’ve said before — thank you Timmy.”
Popovich said without Duncan’s leadership, San Antonio wouldn’t be celebrating five NBA championships.
“He set the quiet example of competing every day, whether it was practice, shoot around — even Manu and Tony looked towards him,” he explained. “He gave of himself in a very humble and quiet way.”
Popovich referred to the other two members of the big three — Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. They described his leadership as “doing and not talking.”
In a recent interview, Duncan — in typical soft spoken form — said that, as he looked back on his career, mindfulness was key to his success.
“Having gone through it just understanding how present you have to be — every day, every game — I was better at that later in my career, as you can kind of see the end coming,” Duncan explained.
“And you’re like ‘ok, I’m here tonight. I’m gonna appreciate this game tonight. This moment tonight. This practice today. I’m going to be present.’ ”
Duncan will be presented for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame by fellow Spurs legend David Robinson, who mentored him earlier in his career.
Popovich said, knowing Duncan as he did, that he didn’t anticipate a long induction speech from him.
The Hall of Fame Induction ceremony will be streamed live on ESPN Saturday from 4-7 p.m. CST. Duncan’s Hall of Fame class includes Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.