On a chilly Sunday afternoon last March, Tim Duncan was putting the final touches on his pre-game activities before heading onto the court for one of his subtle routines– hugging the basketball before handing it to the referee. He’d already sky-hooked his warm-ups high into the air towards the training staff. He’d tucked, re-tucked, and tucked again his jersey. With only seconds to spare before the tip he reached for the bottle of roll-on talc that sits on the edge of the scorer’s table next to Gregg Popovich’s paper cup and Boris Diaw’s hand lotion. He silently rubbed some into his hands and on the front of his jersey.
He was, and continues to be, a healthy helping of hubris and a no-look pass. His silky smooth play and jaw dropping ball handling skill offered promises of greatness that seemed to be just out of reach. Sure, he was part of one NBA Championship with Dallas in 2011 and is 2nd in career assists, but beyond that he was more sizzle than steak.
He played for Dallas, Phoenix, New Jersey, Dallas again and finally in New York before retiring as a player. And just like that deceptively agile kid from California 20 years ago, his transition from player to coach was quick and surprising, yet ultimately unsatisfying.