In high school, I started hanging out with my friend, Kid, who was a huge basketball fan. My dad was more into baseball and boxing, so I only had a cursory knowledge of basketball. And, since I grew up a six hour drive from the closest NBA team (NYC, Boston, and Toronto were equidistant), I had no team allegiance instilled in me.
I knew I would be watching a lot of basketball, so I needed to pick a team. Kid was a big fan of Kevin Garnett. I had taken a liking to David Robinson because who wouldn't love a guy considered one of the best basketball players of all time who also happened to be a Lieutenant in the Navy and could play the piano and jazz sax? Unfortunately, the Admiral was on his way out, luckily there was this new guy named Tim Duncan.
At first, I started following Timmy simply because Spurs vs Wolves was a lot of fun in NBA live against Kid. But, Tim eventually taught me what basketball really is: it's a team sport.
I grew up in the age of ESPN and the Michael Jordan highlight reel, which gave way to the Kobe highlight reel. But, I always appreciated Duncan more. From the moment he came into the league, he was a guy that others wanted to play with. Despite this, there were a few years where Tim played with a pretty bad roster around him. But, he still dragged those bad teams into the playoffs, and even won a title with one of them (2003 where his best teammates were a 20-year old Tony Parker and Stephen Jackson.)
in his 19 year career, he never missed the playoffs and had a 71% winning percentage. Those number are unprecedented and Duncan is responsible as much as the Spurs organization because his greatness allowed the organization to be great and allowed Pop to become one of the best coaches of all time.
Duncan didn't grandstand. He never held the team hostage. Never complained about the front office or threaten to leave (he did almost leave once, but didn't and the story faded away, unlike similar situations from other superstars). He didn't care about the spotlight. He just cared about making his team the best and about winning. He just let his play on the court speak for him.
He was the perfect basketball player for me to unwittingly choose to follow. Now, I'm a die-hard NBA fan and Tim Duncan is no longer in the league. It's a sad time, but I can't help being grateful for the ride.