When discussing the greatest players in the history of the NBA, only a handful of players currently in the league enter the discussion. These following players exhibit greatness, and will leave legacies long after they retire. Kobe Bryant is perhaps a top 10 player of all time, and if he wins just one more NBA title, many will consider him to be the second-best shooting guard to ever play the game (behind some Michael Jordan character).
LeBron James has unlimited talent, and if he wins a title or two down the stretch, he will undoubtedly be remembered as an elite NBA player. Shaq has made an impact for nearly two decades, and is a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. Other players, including Jason Kidd, Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Garnett will be enshrined in Springfield when all things are said and done. Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash add some international flavor to the mix.
Amongst all of these players is missing the individual who has had perhaps the greatest career and will be considered to be the best to ever play the game at his position. That player is (as the title eliminates any conjecture) Tim Duncan. Why is it that the four-time NBA champion, three-time Finals MVP, two-time regular season MVP, etc. seemingly always goes overlooked?
It feels as if we have been shrugging his accomplishments aside for the vast majority of his career, while acknowledging that he is, as many consider him to be, the best power forward to ever play the game. Perhaps it is due to his quiet and reserved nature, or his lack of flare in his game; regardless, it should be noted that Tim Duncan will leave a legacy much greater than any other player in the league today, and perhaps even of all time.
When he was drafted by the Spurs in 1997, Timmy D entered a team that finished with a 20-62 record the previous season. With his presence, they reached the playoffs as the fifth seed, and he received much praise. Charles Barkley himself said, "I have seen the future and he wears number 21."
Within a short period of time, Duncan had won an NBA Championship (1999) accompanied by a Finals MVP Trophy and was the regular season MVP in 2001-2002 and 2002-2003. Ever since those two years, Duncan has almost been an afterthought when considering the great players still playing. Why was this the case?
The answer may lie in Tim Duncan's best attribute: consistency. In a league otherwise marred by (mostly) inconsistent players (see: McGrady, Tracy; Carter, Vince; Davis, Baron), Duncan was the constant. Year in and year out, he was guaranteed to be the one guy to score 20 points a night, with 10 boards, and make countless great plays on the defensive end. He has also been fortunate enough to avoid any serious, career-threatening injuries.
In a society that values highlight-reel plays almost as much, if not more, than winning, Duncan was prone to not appealing to the former. His style was considered to be boring, but when June rolled around, he was still on the court. Due to his consistency in the early 2000s, and lack of highlights to appeal to the SportsCenter audience, Duncan was only briefly mentioned by ordinary folk when discussing great NBA players.
Now in his 14th NBA season, Tim Duncan is averaging slightly less than 30 minutes per game; if that stat holds true, it would be the first time of his career playing such few minutes. Scoring only about 13 points per contest is also a career low, along with 9.7 rebounds per game, but Tim Duncan has transcended statistics. Ever since his first title in 1999, he has been a fixture in the NBA playoffs. This year, when the summer is approaching, he will still be on the court.
Although NBA fans may not readily recognize the greatness of Tim Duncan, the Big Fundamental, he has a great chance of winning a fifth title this season. The last laugh will belong to the man who will one day demand a quote as enduring as Edwin Stanton's statement regarding Abraham Lincoln: "Now he belongs to the ages."