In this time of fireworks, the NBA is more preoccupied with superstars as teams bid for the likes of Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in free agency. Tim Duncan meanwhile is quietly counting his trophies, his many laurels, and opting in to the 18th season of a career intertwined with the city of San Antonio. Do his ways not offer a lesson in how to circumvent the madness of courting superstars?
Assuredly, they do.
It’s easy to waive off any hurdles he’s had along the way because they seem so negligible next to a long list of successes. But in his 18-year run, Duncan has faced the humiliating postseason losses, the prospect of greener pastures, and more, that LeBron and Melo are faced with now. Loyalty is not often touted as a stat worthy of measurement in the NBA but is one that has contributed to Duncan’s stardom. Think about it, without the rock that is The Big Fundamental, could the Spurs have ever amassed the 50-win seasons that they have? Would they have made it to six NBA Finals? More importantly, would they have won five of those six without Duncan’s prowess?
Operating within an organization with San Antonio’s reputation has surely made Duncan’s willingness to stay there that much easier but his own disposition deserves praise. As teams like the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, and Dallas Mavericks move the earth to hook Melo and ‘Bron, they should take a lesson from Duncan and the Spurs in keeping things grounded and civil. After getting trounced in the 2008-09 season in the first round, after suffering with Richard Jefferson, Keith Bogans, and Theo Ratliff in a 2009-10 team that got swept by the Suns, after giving up a 2-0 lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder, after having his minutes reduced, Duncan made little fanfare and proclamation and simply retained his seat at a chance at one more. No media circus, no max deals, no fireworks.
Because he’s 38 years old, and because success rarely breeds drama, the limelight hasn’t been on Tim Duncan despite being in good form to chase another ring next year. He’ll just quietly contribute another winning season, take the $10.3 remaining in his very-quiet contract, patiently power through Ginobili’s stress fracture and Patty Mills’ shoulder surgery, and add to his body of work. All while still a Spur.
LeBron and Melo are talented enough to demand the attention they’re getting. If the free agency market is telling them they’re owed one thing, then, by god, they should take the money and run. But, perhaps the market stands to learn something from Duncan’s career. You can land superstars but does the way you got them indicate anything about their willingness to help you win even after the fireworks have quieted?