After all, Father Time, as the old saying goes, is and will forever remain undefeated. Even the ageless Duncan—by now a bona fide basketball institution—understands this.
However, seldom has Duncan spoken candidly about when his Hall of Fame career might officially be brought to a close.
He did just that during his NBA Finals press conference on Friday afternoon:
"I've changed myself, I've changed my game. When I don't feel effective, I'll walk away" - Duncan on his dominance. pic.twitter.com/NBF6Xfw5OS— NBA (@NBA) June 7, 2014
Yeah, we might be waiting a while.
More than almost every other superstar of his era, Duncan’s dominance was less about gravity-defying athleticism (see: Tracy McGrady) and more about footwork and finesse—the sturdy, ground-bound brand of low-post brilliance that earned him the nickname “Big Fundamental.”
Another key to Duncan’s prolonged longevity may have been a change in diet, initiated following a crippling Round 1 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2011 playoffs.
Here’s how longtime teammate Bruce Bowen put it, via Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News:
“He lost a lot of weight,” Bowen said. “In fact, when we would go out to eat, Tim would split the bill and we had a big plethora of food out of us. But now, he’s starting to eat wheat bread and chicken only, no mayonnaise, no mustard, none of that.”
More importantly, Duncan’s role as San Antonio’s quiet warrior has helped keep the aging Spurs squarely in the contender’s conversation—even following the most devastating loss of his 16-year NBA career in last year’s seven-game Finals loss to the Miami Heat.
From Pounding the Rock’s Chris Itz:
Beaten but far from broken, there was Timmy a couple of days later in the gym. This 37-year old, whose career accomplishments would take paragraphs to list, with a lifetime of basketball behind him and nothing to prove. Here he was, working on his game after the toughest loss of his life. Within days according to R.C. Buford. That sets a tone. How much is that worth? The national media wrote the Spurs off, saying they couldn't bounce back from that devastating Finals loss. Parker and Diaw went and won Eurobasket. Ginobili got healthy, and Timmy kept working - still elite, even hungrier, and wiser.
With his team up 1-0 in its best-of-seven rematch with the Miami Heat—the product of a decisive 110-95 Game 1 win Thursday night—Duncan has a chance to further cement himself as the greatest power forward the game has ever seen.
Beating the Heat, the team responsible for last year’s heartbreak, would certainly be a perfectly poetic way to call it a career. But if Duncan’s improved diet and steadfast exercise regimen prove anything, it’s that not even a fifth championship—or the resulting demon exorcism—might be enough to trump a sheer love of the game.