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Championship or not, Duncan is one of the greatest

During the NBA Finals, John Karalis of Red's Army will be contributing to Project Spurs during the San Antonio Spurs' chase for title number five. Here is John's first post on Tim Duncan's place among the best-of-the-best in league history.
 
A few things happen as an aging superstar edges closer to championship.  
 
There’s a requisite level of reflection.  On a TV show, it’d be the part where the character looks off into the distance and the picture dissolves into a foggy, slow motion recall of career highlights.  This is, in its own way, a sort of eulogy.  Sometimes you can tell by the author including the line “I don’t want this sound like a eulogy…”  
 
There’s also amazement, because guys at whatever age this aging superstar is at the moment aren't supposed to be doing what this guy is doing.  “Father time” references are your clue that you’re reading one of those. 
 
And then there’s historical perspective and ranking.  A (or another) title suddenly changes people’s views about players.  This is where I come in.
 
San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan is trying to join guys like Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson in the “one for the thumb” club, a step up from the four-ring slums guys like Shaquille O’Neal call home.  A fifth ring would put Tim Duncan on the NBA’s Mt. Rushmore. 
 
That is, if he wasn't already there. 
 
Let’s be honest here.  If a 37-year-old player isn't on side of that mountain after 16 seasons, he’s not getting on, not even with a fifth ring.  An over-emphasis on championships may make people disagree, but there’s nothing that can happen over the next few weeks to change who Duncan is or was.  
 
He can never score another point.  He could average a quadruple double.  None of it changes a damn thing.
 
Tim Duncan’s career looks less like an arc and more like an arrow shot from Daryl Dixon’s crossbow.  
 
Rookie troubles?  
Please. 
 
Sophomore slump? 
Get outta here
 
Slow fade into that good night?
First team all NBA.  Again.  Bit**es.
 
There’s one paragraph about Duncan that really made me stop in my tracks when I heard it.  Bill Simmons spoke it in this piece on him.
 
You realize the Spurs have won 70% of the games Tim Duncan has played, right?  70 percent!  They've never missed the playoffs with him or won less than 50 games with him, except for the strike year in 1999 when they went 37-13.  Oh, and the Spurs came within two games of possibly winning five straight titles with Duncan. 
 
It’s amazing to think there are two titles out there that could have easily been Timmy’s.  That means he could be going for number SEVEN right now.  That’s Robert Horry territory, folks. 
 
Let’s not get carried away, though, with the chase for the immortal Big Shot Rob.  Let’s focus on Duncan joining the Slater Martin and Larry Siegfried in the five-ring club.  
 
My point here is, championships can happen to not-so-great player and not happen to obviously great players.  So whether Duncan has four or five or seven or whatever doesn't matter.  What matters is that if the eternal battle for heaven and earth came down to a basketball game between God and Satan where they could pick from any players ever, Duncan would be in someone’s starting line up.  
 
If the Hall of Fame elected its own Hall of Fame, Duncan is in there.  He’s there with Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Dr. J, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant… and… what’s his name… dude from the Bulls.  
 
There are other names on that list, and a few we can debate.  But that doesn't change the fact that Duncan’s in that room, and he’s been in there for a little while now.  And in case the eye test hasn't convinced you of this fact, let’s get to some of the numbers.
 
Since Tim Duncan was blessed upon the NBA in the 1997-98 season, only one guy has scored more than 23,000 points while grabbing more than 13,000 rebounds.  That’s right.  Just Timmy.  Only five guys have scored 23,000 or more (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Kobe Bryant, and Duncan).  But Duncan’s the only guy to get 13,000 rebounds over that stretch too.  Garnett is about 300 shy.  He’s the only one that’s close.
 
In the Duncan era, only three guys have score more than 4,000 playoff points.  Tim, Kobe, and Shaq.  Shaq and Duncan are the only guys to do that and add more than 2,000 rebounds.
 
His career PER is 24.73, ninth best all time and better than Kareem, Bird, Dream, Magic, Dr. J, and a bunch of others.  He’s got the second best defensive rating of all time.  
 
I can keep going, but I won’t because it will get boring. 
 
Oh, there’s that word again.  It’s the word that makes Spurs fans squirm.  It has the same effect as responding to your wife’s “does this make me look fat?’ with “well….”
 
At some point, Spurs fan, you’re going to have to accept that boring is a back-handed compliment.  Because yes, Duncan is boring in a way that everyone wishes they were boring.  
 
I’ll put it to you guys this way:  No one pulls over in traffic to admire skillful driving full of proper signaling, perfectly-timed merges, and hands always at 10 and 2.   But nothing gets someone’s attention quite like a car wreck.  Now tell me, when’s the last car wreck you've seen on the Gregg Popovich Freeway? 
 
Step back far enough from the chart of Tim Duncan’s statistics and it looks like a flat-line pouring off an EKG.  It’s not filled with the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs and the creamy middles of most careers.  It’s just one long, straight, line of awesomeness. 
 
Mt. Rushmore?  Screw that.  Tim Duncan’s been on top of Mt. Everest ever since he stepped into the NBA.  He descended from the heavens, set up shop on the mountaintop, and stayed there.  
 
He’ll be there until he decides to come down, and it won’t matter if he comes down with four rings or five.  Nothing will ever take away from the fact that in the 122 years since the game was conceived in a dusty gymnasium in Springfield, Massachusetts, Duncan is only one of of a handful of guys who can be called the best of the best.
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