He doesn’t smile much. He doesn’t frown too much either, or laugh out loud, or scream and shout, or show many other types of common human emotions. He does groan from time to time at debatable refereeing decisions, but that just might be a minor malfunction in the system.
But although the jokes may fly in comparing his lack of emotional response on court to a cyborg, Tim Duncan is machine-like in another, more crucial way. More than a decade and a half into this starry NBA career, he still dominates the post, still banks in those shots, still makes it tough for opposition to score on him, still puts up big stats and drops clutch games in the post season, and still keeps winning. He may be 36 years old, but Robots are ageless.
Now in his 15th season, Duncan, has experienced everything: four Championships, Two MVP Awards, 13 visits to the All Star Game, Two Lockouts, the rise and fall of the Shaq-Kobe Lakers, the rise and fall of the Pistons, the rise and near-fall of the Kobe-Gasol Lakers, the last Michael Jordan championship to the first LeBron James championship. And through it all, while the basketball world changed chaotically around him, Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs continued to function like a perfectly-oiled machine. Since Duncan’s rookie year, the Spurs have won over 70 percent of their regular season games in the last 15 years.
We are living in an age of speed, where every moment is instantly shared all across the world, and the present can instantly become the distant past unless it keeps on amazing us on a daily basis. That is why we are becoming the prisoner of the moment, why we sometimes make irrational judgements because we don’t have the time to put in some more deep thought any more That is why some of us have the gall to call Kobe or LeBron as the greatest players since Michael. That is why we’re so impressed with modest success of post players like Blake Griffin or Kevin Love. That is why we now crown our Kings only after brief periods of success.
That is why we tend to forget Tim Duncan.
Here are the facts: Tim Duncan is the greatest player in NBA history who is still active today. Tim Duncan will turn 37 this season. He was one of the best big players in the league in last year’s play-offs and is destined to be one of the most important ones this year too. With Duncan in the middle, the Spurs have been the best team in the Western Conference half a dozen times before, and Duncan, who has of course spent his entire career in San Antonio, has averaged a shade over 20 points and 11 rebounds a game throughout that stellar career. Duncan is like one of those historical NBA greats of the past whose achievements we laud and whose legacies we analyse. Except that he’s still here, and still doing it in the present. Like clockwork, Duncan is averaging nearly 19 points and 10 rebounds a game in one of the best teams in the Western Conference in 2012-2013, too.
The Spurs have started the current season 7-2, and although the direction of the franchise has been handed down to the younger hands of Tony Parker and the emerging talents of Kawhi Leonard, Gary Neal, DeJuan Blair, and Danny Green, Duncan has once again emerged as the team’s most important factor, leading them in points and rebounds this season. The landscape of the league has changed drastically. Out West, the Lakers are reloaded with Nash and Dwight and with a new coach. The Grizzlies and the Clippers are legitimate contenders, and the Thunder, with the young and phenomenal Kevin Durant, may still be the team to best in the conference come play-off time. Out East, LeBron James, who has been the NBA’s best player for the past few years, now finally has his championship ring and will be hoping to bring in another one.
But in the relative calm of San Antonio, things are more or less the same. Duncan has new challengers but the same challenge: to win his and his team’s fifth championship. They will do it like they always do it, quietly and efficiently. The medium of hype has evolved over Duncan’s time in the league, from magazine covers and TV highlight shows to YouTube mixes, trending topics on Twitter, and Facebook memes. Year after year, Duncan and the Spurs have been an afterthought, ignored by the hype machine. Year after year, Duncan and Spurs have kept winning.
But robots don’t really need the hype, the magazine covers, the fan videos, or the lofty ‘greatest ever’ comparisons. Robots just need to get the job done.
And Tim Duncan gets the job done. (Although he wouldn’t mind if you showed him a little appreciation, too!)