Back-To-Back MVP Joins Elite Class, Aims For Second NBA Championship
By Dave Glenn
ACC Sports Journal
May 5, 2003
Bill Russell. Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Moses Malone. Larry Bird. Magic Johnson. Michael Jordan. Tim Duncan. The first seven names represent the first seven players in NBA history to win back-to-back Most Valuable Player honors in the top basketball league in the world. All seven were selected to the 50 Greatest Players In NBA History team in 1996, when the league celebrated its 50th anniversary. Even on that esteemed list, those seven stand out.
The eighth name represents the only other player in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP honors. Duncan, a Wake Forest graduate and a consensus national player of the year (1996-97) for the Demon Deacons, received official word of his rare double in early May. At the time, his San Antonio team was about to begin a second-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, as Duncan continued his quest to add a second NBA title to the one the Spurs captured in 1999.
This (MVP award) is a great honor, Duncan said. It's unbelievable to have my name listed with (the other back-to-back winners). They're legends. I'm just out here trying to win games, and I know I couldn't have won this award without my teammates. At some point, individual accomplishments are important. I think you can use them as goals, you can use them as you try to achieve a certain level. But no doubt about it, the (wins) are the most important. The rest of this has to take a back seat to winning. I like to let that speak for me.
Kudos From Every Corner
Duncan, 27, is no stranger to success. He won't detail his accomplishments or expound upon his greatness for anyone he was the same way while at Wake Forest but others are more than happy to speak for him in that regard.
Tim Duncan is why we succeed, San Antonio guard Steve Kerr said. Tim is the MVP. Yes, we've won as a team, but you take him off, and we don't win anything.
He may be the smartest player in the league, said teammate David Robinson, the league's MVP in 1995. He takes whatever you give him. If you're going to play him up on his jump shot, he'll drive. If you're going to play back, he'll shoot the jump shot. That's what makes him MVP. Kevin Garnett's had a great year, Kobe's had a great year, Tracy McGrady's had an unbelievable year. But still you can't dispute it. Tim's the best.
Duncan began his professional career in 1997-98 by winning the league's rookie of the year award and, with Robinson, helping the Spurs to the greatest single-season turnaround (from 20-62 to 56-26) in the history of the league. He followed that up by lifting San Antonio to the NBA championship in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season, when one of the highlights of the team's playoff run was a sweep of Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers. The 1999 Spurs also included point guard Avery Johnson, swingman Sean Elliott, forward Malik Rose and veteran free-agent signees Mario Elie, Jerome Kersey and Kerr, but the keys were the Twin Towers, Robinson and Duncan.
One of the things I remember most is (Robinson's) reaction, Duncan said. It meant so much to him. He had worked so many years, and that was the first time he had gotten (an NBA title). He talked about how it was the best feeling he had ever had on a team, looking around at all the people he knew he could count on, people who only cared about winning. Everybody contributed that year. Everyone trusted each other. It was great to be a part of that.
This season Duncan led the Spurs to an NBA-best 60-22 record in the regular season while averaging 23.3 points and a trio of career highs: 12.9 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.9 blocks per game. He had 58 double-doubles and shot 51 percent from the field despite constant double-teaming. Among the other top vote-getters for the MVP award this year were Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kevin Garnett of Minnesota, Allen Iverson of Philadelphia and Tracy McGrady of Orlando.
The scary thing is, Timmy is still getting better, said San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who has led the Spurs since December 1996 and recently won the 2003 NBA coach of the year award. His effort has always been there and his skills have improved, but it's more the other things that come with experience and maturity. He wasn't always comfortable being a leader a few years ago. He does that for us now. It hasn't always come naturally for him to take the right shot in a key situation, and he does that very well now. He's a very smart, very dedicated player, and it's been a lot of fun to watch him grow.
Slight Personality Changes
One of the more interesting moments of San Antonio's first-round playoff victory over Phoenix this season came when Duncan broke out of character a bit. With the favored Spurs clinging to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series, Duncan decided to have a little fun, boldly guaranteeing a Spurs victory in game six, held in Phoenix.
Duncan's coach and teammates, who regularly describe Duncan as reserved, low-key and mild-mannered off the court, were surprised. Suns guard Stephon Marbury, who spent much of the series talking about how much fun he and Duncan had joking about their head-to-head battles in college during Marbury's one season (1995-96) at Georgia Tech, said he wouldn't believe Duncan made the remarks until he saw them in the newspaper. Phoenix coach Frank Johnson, a fellow Wake Forest star (1978-81) and a self-described Duncan fan, decided to take the fun to another level.
Game Six is ours, Johnson said in response to Duncan's guarantee. We'll see which Wake Forest guy is smarter.
Game. Set. Match. Duncan.
Duncan always has been a good guy, of course, and on a few occasions he has been given exactly that label by the media. San Antonio reporters have honored him for his cooperative nature several times, and The Sporting News named him to the national magazine's Good Guys In Sports lists in 2001 and 2002. He can be a lot of fun, too. Teammates say he has a great sense of humor, and he's always joking around with the full-of-personality Rose, who has become a close friend.
Contrary to popular belief, Duncan even shares some characteristics with the rest of the NBA's 20-something generation. Like many players, he is a video-game junkie. He has a bunch of tattoos and a collection of knives, including a three-foot samurai sword. He also has maintained a unique habit he began during his Wake Forest days, when he began wearing his practice shorts backward. It's not exactly wild-and-crazy-guy stuff, but Duncan prefers his more subtle brands of fun.
I just started that back in college, Duncan said. I just did it one day. I played really well that day, so I've been doing it ever since.
On the court, however, Duncan remains all business. An undeniable force at both ends of the floor, he is far more efficient than flashy. He occasionally does spectacular things, but you wouldn't know it by his reaction. There are no wild celebrations after he makes a play. He doesn't trash talk. He just works hard and tries to help the Spurs win games.
He's not impressed with himself when he does something that's astounding. He's not depressed when he makes a mistake, Popovich said. He just keeps competing. He just keeps playing. He's got no MTV to him at all when he's out there. Timmy just wants to get better. He's not impressed with the hype.
Nice Mix: Business, Charity
Duncan said that when he signed his first pro contract, as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 draft by the Spurs, he already was rich beyond his wildest dreams. Growing up in the Virgin Islands, he dreamed of being an Olympic swimmer and was successful in that sport, but his local pool was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. He didn't play organized basketball until he was in the ninth grade.
Quick ACC history trivia question: Which former Wake Forest player, visiting the Virgin Islands on an NBA-sponsored trip in 1992, discovered Duncan and later convinced former Wake coach Dave Odom to recruit the unknown, unheralded big man? Answer: Chris King.
As a multimillionaire in his early 20s, Duncan often gave time and money to charitable causes, but it wasn't until the last few years that he began to give his philanthropic endeavors more organization. Those who know him well say it's no coincidence that the biggest changes came after the summer of 2001, when Duncan married the former Amy Sherrill.
Amy helped give more direction to Tim's already good intentions, said Lon Babby, Duncan's agent. She helped take everything to a whole new level.
Together, the Duncans created the Tim Duncan Foundation in November 2001. Amy serves as the executive vice president of the organization, which describes itself as designed to serve the areas of health awareness and research, education and youth sports and recreation in San Antonio, Winston-Salem and the Virgin Islands.
The foundation now holds two major fund-raisers each year: the Tim Duncan Bowling For Dollar$ Charity Bowl-A-Thon and the Slam Duncan Charity Golf Classic. The first three bowling events raised more than $350,000 for various cancer-related charities. The golf outing, which began this year and took place at the La Cantera Palmer Course in San Antonio, raised more than $60,000 for community programs that support education, youth sports and recreation, and the fight against breast and prostate cancer.
Duncan also continues his practice of reserving for local charities and other civic-minded outfits a block of 40 tickets to each San Antonio home game, which he distributes through his Tim Duncan Character Champions program. That organization, which gave rewards and recognition to more than 3,000 area students in 2002-03, promotes six key character traits: integrity, respect, dependability, fairness, caring and civic responsibility. Duncan also lends financial support to the city's Children's Bereavement Center, Children's Center and Cancer Therapy and Research Center on an annual basis.
Winston-Salem officials were excited last year, when they learned that Duncan had chosen their city for his first venture into the restaurant business. Tentatively called Tim Duncan's Island Sports Cafe, with the decor and menu carrying a Caribbean theme, it's expected to be located in a new building at 1 W. 4th St., directly across from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company headquarters. Although the 230-seat, 7,000-square-foot project has encountered some delays, it is expected to open early in 2004. Duncan's business manager is Marc Scott, a little-used reserve on the Duncan-led Wake teams of 1994-97.
Tim has been extremely involved in this project from the beginning, Scott said. His name is on it, and he wants everything to be done the right way. It's not like he's always dreamed of having a restaurant, but he wanted to invest in his college town.
When Duncan's lucrative endorsement deal with Nike expired in October 2002, everyone wanted a piece of him. He was the reigning MVP of the NBA on the court, a no-frills, no-trouble, quality-citizen role model off the court. There were other star athletes, in basketball and other major sports, who offered more pizzazz or style, but nobody had more substance.
Prior to the expiration of his Nike deal, Duncan told Babby that his next commitment to a shoe company would be to whoever displayed the most sincere commitment to his charitable foundation. After considering pitches from Nike, adidas and others, Duncan opted to jump to adidas. The estimated terms: four years at $1-2 million per year, plus what Babby called a uniquely large and difficult to exhaust amount of adidas product, ticketed for Duncan's long list of preferred charities and organizations.
Tim doesn't enter into anything important without serious thought, Babby said. I'm an advisor to him, as I am to all of my clients, but in his case I'm usually advising someone who's already given something a lot of thought himself. Money is always a factor, of course, but Tim puts an extraordinary amount of weight on other factors. He did that when he decided to stay in San Antonio (as a free agent in 2000), and he did it again when he signed with adidas. Both were good decisions anyway, but he emphasized that there were important things beyond money and beyond basketball.
Next: Decisions, Olympics
Duncan, now in his sixth professional campaign, has an important decision to make at the end of the season: He can exercise a one-year, $12.3 million option or become a free agent.
I don't think about it at all, Duncan said. It's going to happen. And when it happens, I will figure it out then. I want to be with a winning team with an opportunity to win a championship. That's the bottom line.
He's likely to pick free agency, but his next deal nevertheless is expected to be with San Antonio, possibly for more than $20 million per season. He likes the small-market atmosphere, and he has excellent relationships with his coaches (especially Popovich), teammates and management. The Spurs purposely built a stately new practice facility within a short drive of Duncan's new home, and team officials give him at least some input in virtually every decision, all the way down to the pre-practice (eggs and bacon) and post-practice (tortilla soup) menus.
Duncan stayed with the Spurs in 2000 despite a six-year, $72.4 million offer from Orlando, and NBA free agency and salary-cap rules make it easier for his current team to offer him huge money this time than for other teams to do so. Duncan made a little more than $12 million in salary in 2002-03, which made him just the 25th highest-paid player in the league.
That's a bargain, and I can say that from an owner's standpoint or a player's standpoint, Jordan said. He and Shaq are the most dominating players in the NBA.
Also coming soon: Duncan will be a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team. He was supposed to be on the 2000 team, but an injury forced him to withdraw from the squad that won the gold medal in Australia. Other players already selected for next year's U.S. team, which will be coached by Larry Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers, include Bryant, Iverson, McGrady, Ray Allen of Seattle, Mike Bibby of Sacramento, Jason Kidd of New Jersey, Karl Malone of Utah and Jermaine O'Neal of Indiana.
He's obviously the best player in the NBA, and not just because of his skill level, said NBA television analyst Jeff Van Gundy, the former head coach of the New York Knicks. I think it's his maturity, his knowledge of the game, that he cares just about winning. You can just watch a guy play and know if he's truly into winning or not. That guy's truly into winning.
So to me, not only is he the best player, but he's somebody that obviously San Antonio is going to have for a long time. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this league can build around Tim, because of his unselfishness, and because of what he offers as a person and as a basketball player. He's that special.
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