Any Spurs fan will tell you that Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals gets them every time. I can say with confidence that this was the first professional game I watched that made me tear up in almost 20 years.1 I didn’t cry because the Spurs lost a game that was forced by one of the most epic comebacks in NBA Finals history, ultimately taking away a championship we were so close to obtaining. My eyes grew watery because of one specific moment of the game. Timmy missed a hook shot and the putback rebound that would have tied the game with one minute left. He returned to get back on defense and pounded the floor in frustration. I cried because this was the first time I had ever seen Tim Duncan show vulnerability. In that 30 or so second exchange, my heart sank for him. I was already upset we lost, but I was more upset that Timmy was overwhelmingly upset at himself for missing that shot. I cried because for the first time in his NBA career, I realized that this could be the last time I ever get to see him play.
As heartbreaking as that moment was, it was all mended the following year when the Spurs came back and dominated the Heat with the gentlemen’s sweep and destroying the Death Star that was the Heatles. The best part of that redemption year actually came before the series ever started. After clinching game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Timmy stood exasperated and told David Aldridge “We have four more to win, we’ll do it this time.” It had the same nonchalant charisma that Jake Taylor had in Major League when he told the team “Guess there’s only one thing left to do, win the whole fucking thing.” It never felt like Timmy was trying to talk trash or belittle the Heat, but more like him letting everybody know that he wasn’t going to let us lose this year.
I remember watching the announcement of the draft order with my family in 1997. I was a Spurs fan and was had grown frustrated watching a Robinson-less Spurs team go 20-62. Unlike many Spurs fans, I can admit I was really upset at Popovich for firing Bob Hill and taking over at head coach. I didn’t know Pop would eventually become the greatest coach of all-time.2 At the time, it felt like he had fired him just so he could call the shots.3 I will admit I didn’t know anything about college basketball at the time, but my cousins, uncles and dad were hoping the Spurs would get the first pick to draft this dude from Wake Forest. I immediately latched on to their excitement when it was revealed the Spurs won the lottery and told my dad I wanted Tim Duncan’s jersey without ever seeing him play. That was my introduction to Tim Duncan, he was the new hope for the Spurs and I’ve had an undying admiration and appreciation of him ever since.
I cried again watching Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals this year. We got stomped by the Thunder early and the game was pretty much done by halftime. Timmy came out in the middle of the third quarter and got some great stops and put together a little comeback going into the 4th quarter. I don’t think we ever cut the lead to below double digits, but the whole time he was on the floor I felt like we could cut it. From the time he entered to the middle of the 4th it went from “let’s make this score more respectable” to “OH MY GOSH, we might actually come back!” and Timmy was the anchor harboring that hope. When the Thunder ran away with the score in the end, it occurred to me4 that this could very well be his last game.
I’ve always liked the fact that David Robinson went out on top, but former San Antonio native and fellow Spurs lifer Shea Serrano recently brought up an even more memorable way to go out. A while back, he talked about how he can imagine Tim Duncan not going out on top, but rather going out in defeat in a nasty battle basically giving everything he had very similar to how Leonidas went out in 300. Game 6 was that final battle and he gave everything he had and then some. In hindsight, it really was a great way to go out for the GOAT.
After the 2013 Finals loss, I took to Facebook to write an appreciative letter to the Spurs and what they mean to San Antonio. I mentioned how there are so many people in San Antonio who don’t know anything about basketball but love the Spurs and that is my favorite thing about the team they transcend the line of sports culture into civic pride. Tim Duncan is the reason they are able to do that. Sure, he continued great characteristics that were established by The Admiral and The Iceman, but Tim Duncan is and will always be a San Antonio treasure and he is the reason the Spurs are synonymous with San Antonio culture.
As much as I’ve prepared myself for the moment Timmy retires, I still wasn’t ready for being woken up by an ESPN app notification telling me he was calling it a career. I do know that it’s going to be surreal come opening day and he won’t come through the huddle high-fiving. My heart sinks thinking about it. As weird as it is to see the bench without him on it, I know that his influence will continue to live on through the culture of the Spurs and spirit of San Antonio. Thank You for everything TD.
1. The last time I cried was after Game 6 of the ’95 Western Conference NBA Finals.↩
2. Or at least the greatest coach of an era when there were more than 14 teams in the league.↩
3. I must also mention I was 9 and dumb and didn’t know a lot about how sports worked outside of stat sheets, so don’t be too hard on me.↩
4. as well as the broadcast crew who basically turned Tim’s performance into a bit of a eulogy for his career.↩