Tim Duncan has been a truly one-of-a-kind superstar, throughout the course of his illustrious career.
Despite possessing above-average talent, the San Antonio Spurs power forward has never been one to explore the benefits of being a superstar off the court. While many of the league's biggest names are media celebrities, Duncan has remained fairly isolated from such coverage. As a result, the famed big man has become not only one of the most underrated players in today's game, but also one of the least-recognized achievers throughout basketball history.
With an already impressive resume, Duncan has solidified himself as one of the league's best ever. But where, exactly, does he rank on the grand scheme of legends? Many will argue his value as a top-10 player, though some are yet to accept his position amongst the 10 greatest.
Now, as he and the Spurs are in the midst of a quest for a fifth title, Duncan will look to solidify his position in that tier of NBA greats, making his position among the top 10 irrefutable.
Wow. Tim Duncan ties Wilt Chamberlain with 143 playoff double-doubles.— Dan McCarney (@danmccarneysaen) May 15, 2013
As it stands, a handful of players remain indisputably above Duncan on the all-time list. From a guard perspective, Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson rank definitively above the San Antonio star. In the frontcourt, players like Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain hold a status that Duncan will not be able to reach.
Beyond there, Duncan has the potential to surpass any other player in NBA history.
From a big-man perspective, many will argue Shaquille O'Neal as the superior and more dominant player. The latter is true, as O'Neal's level of dominance was unprecedented. However, if Duncan can add another ring to his collection, the argument as the more complete all-time player should be one-sided.
Currently, O'Neal and Duncan both boast four titles, each having won the Finals MVP three times—though Duncan's role in the Spurs' 2007 championship was larger than Shaq's in his '06 title run with the Miami Heat.
Adding a fifth title would solidify Duncan's superiority as a postseason talent. Though O'Neal's regular-season statistics are significantly better than his San Antonio counterpart's, Duncan was recognized as the league MVP one more time than Shaq.
Though rings aren't the single defining element in a player's status, the playing level between the two talents is close enough, that a fifth title would allow Duncan to move ahead in the rankings.
Along with Shaq, legends Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone are often thought to be close with Duncan—though winning a title in 2013 would allow the Spurs big man to pass both Olajuwon and Malone definitively.
Olajuwon boasts one of the greatest low-post games ever, while Malone can claim ownership of one of the greatest quotes in league history. Both were incredibly talented, and neither has received proper recognition for their abilities.
However, the same can be said for Duncan, and while his statistic achievements may not blow away those of Olajuwon and Malone, his postseason history allows for him to be considered superior.
Neither Olajuwon nor Malone were quite as successful in the playoffs, with Olajuwon possessing two titles, and Malone just a single ring.
A fifth ring would ensure that Duncan ranks ahead of them, as the achievement is too significant to ignore.
From there, the other player often listed ahead of Duncan would Kobe Bryant—and while a fifth title wouldn't ensure the big man's position above his L.A. opponent, it certainly would make a balanced argument that could go either way.
Unlike the aforementioned L.A. star, Duncan is not more decorated than Bryant—yet. Bryant already has five rings. However, the primary argument against the Lakers' shooting guard has been the fact that he was not the leading man on three of those five title teams.
Playing with Shaquille O'Neal, Bryant became a sidekick, winning just two Finals MVP awards compared to Duncan's three. A fifth title would dispel any argument that Bryant was more successful in the playoffs, and give fans a legitimate argument to place Duncan ahead of Bryant.
So whether or not you already agree with the notion that Duncan is a top-10 talent of all time, a fifth title would ensure his position among the elites.
He may possess a shy demeanor, but if the Spurs' star can lead his team to one more championship, few will overlook him again.