Bill Russell: Tim Duncan 'Right Up There at the Top' Among All-Time Big Men

Jim CavanContributor IJune 16, 2014

PHOENIX - FEBRUARY 14: NBA Legend Bill Russell and Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs share a laugh prior to the Haier Shooting Stars competition as part of 2009 NBA All-Star Weekend at US Airways Center on February 14, 2009  in Phoenix, Arizona.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2009 NBAE  (Photo by Ray Amati/NBAE via Getty Images)
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It seems like just about everyone has an opinion on who belongs on this NBA all-time list or that basketball Mount Rushmore. And with this generation of stars still authoring its own legends and legacies, the conversation is bound to get even more muddled.

But it's the opinion of one player in particular that everyone—from players to press, coaches to owners—seems to agree caries the most meaningful weight: 11-time NBA champion Bill Russell.

Which is why Tim Duncan's already transcendent Father's Day must've felt even greater after the former Boston Celtics great responded to a question about where the San Antonio Spurs' cornerstone forward ranks among the game's all-time big men with this simple, six-word response (per USA Today’s Sam Amick):

"Right up there at the top."

Duncan collected his fifth championship ring Sunday night when his Spurs demolished the Miami Heat 104-87 to take the NBA Finals in five, mostly lopsided, games.

The 17-year veteran has yet to announce whether or not he'll return to defend his crown next season, although Duncan did acknowledge during his postgame presser that it would be hard to walk away from a team that stands to be close to intact entering the 2014-15 season.

If Duncan returns, he'll most likely exercise his $10.4 million player option, with the Spurs as a whole predicted to be close to $10 million below the NBA's expected salary cap.

As Amick notes, nothing about Duncan screams NBA legend. Instead, you have to look at the patience and process behind the legacy to truly appreciate just how unique his brand of basketball genius really is:

It's not just the number of titles, of course, but how he got them — never in back-to-back fashion, always requiring a restart when years would go by in between without a ring, a long stretch of success that puts him in a class all his own for all of time. It had been seven years since their last, and one torturous year since they saw it slip away in Miami and left everyone wondering if there was any way they could get back.

Russell's run was much more compact, of course, with all 11 of his rings coming between 1957 and 1969—a stretch of individual and team dominance unrivaled in the world of professional sports.

At the same time, Russell's NBA lacked the sheer depth of talent (to say nothing of the actual number of teams) of Duncan's, making the surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer's resume even more sterling.

SAN ANTONIO, TX - JUNE 15: Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts with teammates after winning 2014 NBA Finals at AT&T Center on June 15, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or
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But rather than spark some protracted debate over which of the two deserves the more raucous applause, let's simply take Russell's one-off remark as that evermore rare opportunity to actually agree on something NBA-related.

When historians hundreds of years from now come to write about the game's all-time greats, Bill Russell and Tim Duncan will be spoken of in the same, opening breath.