LeBron James and Tim Duncan: A Tale of Two Choices

Robert Kleeman@@RobertKleemanSenior Analyst IJuly 9, 2010

SAN ANTONIO - MAY 09:  Forward Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 9, 2010 in San Antonio, Texas. 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.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As LeBron James appeared on national TV to crush Cleveland fans again, his narcissistic, me-me-me show harkened a similar situation in San Antonio 10 years ago.

Tim Duncan danced with the idea of leaving San Antonio to form a star trio in Orlando and the promise of a dynasty alongside Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady.

The details that Duncan did not announce his intentions on ESPN and that he stayed seem miles apart.

Duncan had already teamed with David Robinson to secure a championship banner in 1999. James could not do that in his seven-year stint with the Cavaliers.

The anticipation and anguish felt by both fan bases, however, are as similar as the riffs to "Ice Ice Baby" and "Under Pressure."

James spat on his hometown in the worst of ways and abandoned the chance to establish himself as a championship leader. His mission to bring gold glory to Cleveland will sitck on his resume as "incomplete."

Instead of forcing an adequate supporting cast to come to him in Ohio, he decided to join a pair of All-Stars in Miami. He made the sexy choice instead of the tough one, and perhaps right one.

If he wins multiple championships with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he will forget what he left behind in Cleveland. He took the plunge Duncan could not, and in doing so, put more pressure on himself to deliver in June.

As Cleveland suffers, San Antonio should rejoice. Spurs fans should see James' blasphemous "Decision" special as a reminder of what did not happen in the summer of 2000.

Duncan did not interview a parade of executives at a compound in San Antonio, and he first delivered the news of his extended stay via a telephone call to Gregg Popovich.

The threat of his departure was no less excruciating. He allowed the Orlando Magic to shuttle him from Texas to Florida, and he considered, at one juncture, cancelling his return flight. Hill then was in his prime, and McGrady was just entering it.

How could he not consider a union with Hill, a friend and admired competitor?

Popovich and R.C. Buford's extensive, complex graphs and pie charts, plus a late plea from Robinson, convinced Duncan to stay in the only pro basketball address he had known.

Magic fans know how long it can take to assuage the loss of a star. It took Orlando more than a decade of injury-riddled seasons and heartbreak to land Dwight Howard and another NBA Finals berth.

Shaquille O'Neal spurned Orlando for the bright lights of Hollywood. He passed up another shot with Penny Hardaway for uncertainty in L.A. O'Neal did not know then that Kobe Bryant, picked 13th by the Charlotte Hornets then traded to the Lakers, would become an all-time great.

He knew the Lakers' proud history and wanted a piece of it for himself.

Spurs fans now know what can happen when a franchise star picks loyalty over intrigue. Popovich promised Duncan more titles but did not deliver on that promise until 2003.

Cleveland's detractors have spouted that the team had seven years to put a winner around James. They must understand, though, that the right move often comes at the least expected moment.

Had James stayed, GM Chris Grant might have secured that adequate sidekick in a trade this season or next. These things take time, and in some cases, an expensive game of trial and error.

The Mo Williams experiment failed. Who says Grant could not have upgraded that position and others?

How many Lakers fans predicted at the start of 2008 training camp that the season would end with Pau Gasol and a Finals date with the Boston Celtics?

Duncan, for sure, could not have predicted his All-Star, Hall of Fame-caliber help after Robinson would come from Argentina and France, respectively.

He loves Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker now but might have scoffed in 2000 at the notion of a frenetic slasher and tiny Frenchman delivering the goods come playoff time.

San Antonio has been spoiled since Robinson first arrived by an organization that emphasizes class over ego and winning over showmanship.

Along the way, those good sportsmen have managed to put on more than a few shows.

Ginobili's emphatic slams and alley-oop jams inspired oohs and ahs. Duncan's jump hook was as automatic as the sun rise. Parker crossed over more players than presidential candidates did states.

Spurs fans are the luckiest of them all. Sans the history in Boston and the unfair advantages in L.A., San Antonio has fielded a contender in each of Duncan's 12-plus seasons.

Cavs fans once hoped James could create a new history in Cleveland, similar to what Jordan spawned in Chicago and Duncan and Robinson did in the Alamo City.

A franchise can indeed go from irrelevant or accustomed to losing to the exact opposite.

Things could get antsy and anxious in South Texas if Tiago Splitter stays in Spain and Richard Jefferson leaves the Spurs high and dry without compensation.

Maybe, though, Spurs fans can find a little time to appreciate what they have witnessed over the years.

San Antonio was beyond lucky to land both Robinson and Duncan with the odds against them winning each draft lottery. Fortune smiled on the city's hoops team again when Duncan shunned the Magic's glitzy promise for the Spurs' comfort and straightforward approach.

Dan Gilbert will soon regret the anti-LeBron tirade he posted on the Cavs Web site Thursday night. James may soon regret not giving the Cavs three more years to help him get a ring.

The Duncan era will conclude in San Antonio with few regrets.

So, Spurs fans, when you read speculation that James' switcharoo could cause the Cavs to disband within five years and when you see the heartache and rage his defection has caused, know this:

Ten years ago, it could have been you.


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