Tim Duncan is considered by many to be the greatest power forward of all time and had one of the finest playing careers in NBA history. Although he was not known to be particularly flashy on the court, he was nicknamed the “Big Fundamental” for his virtuoso offensive finesse and his defensive mastery. He was also known to be a first-class teammate, which made him one of the most ideal team leaders in history.
Following his standout NCAA career at Wake Forest University, Duncan was selected No. 1 overall in the 1997 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. Duncan played all 19 of his NBA seasons with the Spurs, and for Gregg Popovich, who was in the process of establishing himself as one of the most brilliant basketball minds of all time. Duncan and Popovich produced a winning combination, as the Spurs would reach the playoffs in every single one of those 19 seasons. In the early years of Duncan’s Spurs career, he was accompanied in the front court by David Robinson, one of the all-time great centers; the young power forward and veteran center would forge a potent “twin tower” tandem.
In Duncan’s 1997-98 NBA Rookie of the Year season, he established himself as one of the premier players in the league, earning selection to the All-NBA First Team. In Duncan’s second season, he led the Spurs to their first-ever NBA championship, while claiming the NBA Finals MVP. In 2001-02, Duncan would win his first of two consecutive league MVP awards. Duncan concluded his 2002-03 MVP season by leading the Spurs to the franchise’s second title, while capturing his second Finals MVP. The aging Robinson retired after the Spurs 2003 championship victory but that would not stop them from continuing to be a reckoning force to the rest of the league for years to come. Up-and-coming internationally-born Spurs stars like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli would continue to rise. Between Duncan, who is from the U.S Virgin Islands, Parker, who was born in Belgium and raised in France, and Ginobli, who was from Argentina, the Spurs would gain an identity of being an influential multi-cultural unit.
In 2004-05, Duncan led the Spurs to their third title, while earning his third Finals MVP following a triumphant seven-game Finals series victory. Duncan, to this day, stands as one of only five players throughout history with three or more Finals MVPs (the others: Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and LeBron James). Duncan continued to be an elite force for several more years. He would help lead the Spurs to their fourth title in 2006-07. And, towards the end of Duncan’s illustrious career, a 2013-14 Spurs team featuring an emerging young superstar in Kawhi Leonard would win San Antonio it’s fifth NBA title.
On December 18, 2016, the Spurs immortalized Duncan’s jersey No. 21 in the rafters — the figurehead of their winning tradition. Duncan, a five-time NBA champion, three-time NBA Finals MVP, two-time MVP, 15-time NBA All-Star, 10-time All-NBA First Team selection, and eight-time NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, surely amassed a first-ballot Hall of Fame resume. And throughout that meritorious Hall of Fame career, he possessed the top-tier combination of qualities that comprise a franchise megastar and team leader.