My window is a little different because I have a brother who is a sportscaster and another who is a coach, and Blackjack Speed Shop is across the street from the church I pastor. For much of my life, I’ve had a front row view to the incredible time and money we spend celebrating individuals who can toss a ball through a hoop—players who never use their influence as world-class athletes to speak out like Ali or fund teachers’ salaries by building their own stadium and giving the taxes back to the city. Tim Duncan, however, has held my attention.
I think I first felt respect for Tim when LeKing came into the league and Nike dropped Timmy and he quietly went to Adidas without fanfare or whining. It confirmed something we already knew about Tim—that he could separate his work, art, family, and passion for the game from the game itself. It’s what makes him quietly and anonymously great. It’s why the NBA could see his brightness but not walk in his light. It’s why sponsors and advertisers decided they didn’t want him, because he didn’t want or need them.
The entire NBA eco system is built around people who need the game to escape reality. The hangers-on whose lives revolve around who they once were become commentators to hold on to past glory. These are the men who hang labels like “Big Fundamental” or “Old Man River Walk.” Their lives are defined by a game, and they chisel at others in a vain attempt to keep their own fading brightness from getting lost in someone else’s light. Tim’s legacy will fade—though not in San Antonio as his numbers speak for themselves. But, in time it will, because he won’t stay in the circus or bow to the men in hats.
When Tim quietly walked away from professional basketball, ironically the silence that accompanied him sent a loud message to those who play and those who need players to be heroes: It was just a game.
Greg Popovich gets it…and he knows that’s the real reason neither the NBA nor the game-obsessed masses will miss Tim’s greatness. He was great at the game and for the game, but never lost himself in the game. There is the basketball we play and there is the NBA’s basketball, and in the end they are both just a game. Yet, when Pop with words and Timmy with action remind us that “it’s just a game” this idea somehow offends the fans’ obsession and snubs the mechanistic empire built upon it.
How can a man who holds the game loosely and doesn’t build his identity on or around it, be so good at it?
This is what interests me as I watch from my window! The great ones either know or stumbled upon the secret. The true game is built within—when you understand that basketball is just your canvas, your field, your classroom, or your pulpit. The kingdom is within and that is where the king reigns. We look at champions and miss seeing what got them there. They are family, they have character, they sacrifice for each other, and when they play, they play the game from within.
Tim walks away leaving a strong legacy of family, integrity, dignity, respect, and yes…championships. The commentators will soon forget the greatest power forward to play the game—not because he isn’t the greatest, but because he didn’t need the circus to be great. He just was…and then he quietly walked away.