The handwritten sign decorated the blank wall above my sports writing desk for years.
“You can’t win a title without Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan,” written on a blank piece of paper in sharpie.
This was my motto when it came to the NBA. Nothing else mattered but these two.
And for nine years, a span from 1999 to 2007, this had been the case for all except one season when the Detroit Pistons slipped in.
It was as solid of a prognostication as one can have:
|1998-99||San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan|
|1999-00||Los Angeles Lakers||Shaquille O'Neal|
|2000-01||Los Angeles Lakers||Shaquille O'Neal|
|2001-02||Los Angeles Lakers||Shaquille O'Neal|
|2002-03||San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan|
|2003-04||Detroit Pistons*||Chauncey Billups|
|2004-05||San Antonio Spurs||Tim Duncan|
|2005-06||Miami Heat||Dwyane Wade (w/ O'Neal)|
|2006-07||San Antonio Spurs||Tony Parker (w/ Duncan)|
How could my law be so flawed?
I chalked it up to the age of a now-retired O'Neal and soon-to-be-retired Duncan. They were old; it was their fault, not my motto's.
But just like that, sweet Timmy has returned and the sign has life.
Duncan, known already as the best power forward of all time, now has the opportunity to win a fifth championship and enter himself among extremely select company.
Of star players with five or more titles, only Kobe Bryant's five titles from 2000 to 2010 would be equal.
Twenty-five NBA players have won five titles or more, many of which played in the '50s and '60s or played role player parts such as Robery Horry, who won seven.
Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen each have six championships, and no one has more than Bill Russell's 11 championships.
If Duncan were to win a fifth title, it would move him one ahead of O'Neal's four. That would be a big step in creating a legacy above even O'Neal's.
We all know Duncan is among the all-time greats and no one was better at his position. He has plenty of individual honors already, including his three finals MVPs, two regular-season MVP awards and he has been to 14 All-Star games. He's been named to 14 All-NBA teams and 13 All-NBA Defensive teams.
His resume isn't complete. At 37 years old, Duncan has seen a resurgence to his career, and he won All-NBA first team honors this season for his 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.
Currently, Duncan ranks No. 22 in all-time scoring at 23,785 points, with a career average of 20.1 points per game. His 13,219 rebounds ranked him No. 13 all time.
Ultimately though, all those numbers blur together into the world-class tier, and it's the more manageable total number of championships that builds a player's legend.
Duncan has never carried the excitement of a powerful center like O'Neal or the drama of a Bryant.
One can make the case that Duncan's four titles, three finals MVPs and two regular-season MVPs make him a more decorated player than either O'Neal or Bryant. If he wins a fifth title, then Duncan really gains an edge over the competition.
Duncan is his own style of superstar; "Mr. Fundamental" is unassuming in his quietness and his play offers few resounding career highlights.
These playoffs have been a similar tale for Duncan. His 17.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per 34.5 minutes per game this postseason have come as quietly as the quality numbers from throughout his career.
The general sentiment surrounding Duncan is that he's a head-down winner. People revere him for it even if they don't go out and buy his jersey.
If he earns his fifth championship this season, that legacy as one of the best players and greatest winners of our generation gains even more credibility.
The popularity may come later—especially if Duncan takes a second title away from LeBron James.