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Lessons In Greatness

On Tim Duncan’s retirement from the San Antonio Spurs.

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Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs celebrates after defeating the Miami Heat in Game Five of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Texans received some bittersweet news this morning, even if it wasn’t unexpected: San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan is retiring after nineteen seasons with the organization. The decision marks the end of an era for the Spurs, but it doesn’t doom the franchise; as I wrote in May, the team’s success has always been rooted in the fact that it is, fundamentally, a team. Duncan, who spent his entire professional career as a Spur, has never been the only star playing for San Antonio. Still, he is clearly a giant among giants whose many achievements should be highlighted.

Duncan is, first of all, the greatest power forward of all time, and one of the most accomplished athletes to have ever played in professional sports. His record is almost perversely dispositive on that point: there’s no single statistic that neatly encapsulates the breadth of his achievements. Many of his career stats, in fact, would qualify him for such superlatives.

It really says a lot about Duncan, then, that so many of the tributes pouring in today have had less to do with his record as a basketball player than as a person. He is the fourteenth-highest scorer in NBA history, and one of two players in league history—along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—to rack up more than 26,000 points, 15,000 rebounds, and 3,000 blocked shots. Even so, my first instinct upon hearing the news was to text my friend Eva a link to one of the commercials the Spurs did for H-E-B several years ago, because I relish our friendship. “It’s been a wonderful thing,” she responded. “What a man.”

And many Spurs fans, it would appear, had similar reactions. “Thanks for the great memories and all you’ve done in the community, especially with BAMC and Wounded Warriors,” wrote one Facebook friend. “Thank You for All your Commitment, Dedication & Loyalty for our city of San Antonio,” wrote another. “A role model on and off the court,” Greg Abbott tweeted. If you didn’t know any details about Duncan’s career, it would be easy to get the impression that he has spent the past nineteen years volunteering.

Duncan has shown Texans what greatness looks like. Simultaneously, he’s illustrated that it’s possible to be both great and good. And today’s announcement is a timely reminder that the people who grandstand are rarely the greatest among us. With such a lurid example of the former running for president this year, some of us might be tempted to write Duncan in.

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