My youth has officially passed me by.
Earlier this week San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan officially announced his retirement from the NBA after 19 remarkable seasons.
What makes this difficult for me is that Duncan and I entered and left Wake Forest University at the very same time, starting in the late summer of 1993 and exiting in 1997, though I went on to work as a production assistant at a local television station while he went on to be the number one pick in the draft that year.
Before I saw Tim Duncan play, I saw him. He was then much as he is now, quiet in demeanor but extremely poised. For a man nearly seven feet tall he did his best to blend in with the rest of us on campus.
When he arrived, many thought that blending in was all he would do. He was the least heralded of three recruits that year, deemed a project due to his lack of experience with the game. Looking back, it is incredible just how wrong we all were.
The Tim Duncan I knew then never craved the spotlight. Even as he established himself as the best player in the country as a collegian, he allowed himself to be overshadowed by players such as Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace, Joe Smith and Stephon Marbury. None of them went on to have the type of careers that were predicted for them, which is fitting because no one could have predicted that the gangly former swimmer from the Virgin Islands would go on have one of the greatest athletic careers in modern times.
Tim helped lead our Demon Deacons to back-to-back ACC tournament championships, a feat that hadn’t been accomplished by tiny Wake Forest since the 1960s. He earned two ACC Player of the Year awards, three NABC Defensive Player of the Year awards and was the national college player of the year in 1997. When he left Winston-Salem he was college basketball’s all-time leading rebounder (post-1973) and was the only player to ever lead the Atlantic Coast Conference in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage, and blocked shots in a single season. But that was only the beginning.
He’s a five-time champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP and two-time league MVP. Duncan made 15 All-Star appearances, earned All-NBA honors 15 times (10 First Team), and made 15 All-Defensive teams (8 First Team). He’s one of three NBA players with at least 1,000 regular season wins (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish are the others) and one of three to earn the Wooden Award, Rookie of the Year, MVP, Finals MVP, and All-Star MVP (along with Larry Bird and Michael Jordan).
He’ll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and will go down as one of the 10 greatest players of all time.
Tim Duncan made the Spurs the most consistent winner in professional sports over the last two decades.
But the most remarkable thing about Tim has been the impact that he had on those around him. I’ve watched as other classmates and teammates from those college years have shared their favorite memories of Number 21, and as athletes from a wide range of sports have heaped praises upon him across social media. Of course, Timmy isn’t on social media, so that just makes it even more fitting.
After issuing a simple press release, with no quotes and no farewell tour, Timothy Theodore Duncan exits the stage one last time, exactly as he had so many times before, without fanfare but as a champion.
Duncan will be missed. Hopefully I’ll see him at our 20-year reunion next year, so I can tell him the honor that it is to share the title Demon Deacon with him and the honor it was to watch his amazing career.