AT&T CENTER – The microphone began in Sean Elliot’s hands, then it was passed to Tony Parker, to Manu Ginobili, to Gregg Popovich, to Dave Odom, back to Popovich, and finally, the microphone ended in Tim Duncan’s hands as he spoke for a few minutes and thanked the city of San Antonio, his teammates, coaches and family for supporting him during his 19-year NBA career. After Duncan spoke, his number 21 jersey was forever enshrined as a Spurs legend, as it will now hand in rafters of the AT&T Center for the rest of the future.
But, before Duncan’s jersey retirement ceremony even took place, the Spurs had to play and win a basketball game, as they defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 113-100 on their way to win number 22 on the season. In that game, one of Duncan’s former teammates and a current Spur, Danny Green, scored nine points and shot 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
After the game, Green revealed in his postgame interview how he’s adjusting to playing basketball without Duncan both on and off the court.
First, Green was asked if he spoke to Duncan before the game, to which he responded: “When he came out of the car, I had a chance to see him. He looked all grown up with a very nice outfit. It was very fitted, it looked good on him.”
For Duncan, his fashion choices of the past haven’t always been on par with what is the ‘in’ look during any certain eras.
Green was then asked what his favorite memory is with Duncan, and for Green, it goes back two seasons ago, when Green won his first NBA Championship in 2014, and Duncan helped the Spurs win their fifth.
“Got to go with the championship,” said Green. “The guy I’ve watched since I was a kid and to share a locker room with him, win a championship with him, you know, lose some battles and winning one. I felt like one of the luckiest kids in the world to play with a great one and win a championship with him.”
“He’s always been a guy whose come in and does his job,” said Green of the one significant thing he’s taken away from Duncan. “He’s been the ultimate professional as everybody’s said. For me, it was just watching him and you could tell he never gets too excited. But, just never get too up or never get too down. Just stay even keel. There’s going to be some good nights and there’s going to be some bad nights. Just stay positive and keep at it, and things will come. Things will come your way.”
Asked what Duncan’s greatest quality was in Green’s eyes, and Green discussed one particular word about Duncan, how humble he was.
“The greatest thing about him to me, like I said, I’ve watched him since I was a kid. The fact that he was a great but didn’t act like it. He was the most humble guy on the court and in the locker room and he acted like everyone else around him was the guy. Telling me to shoot it as if I’m the guy, ‘why are you setting screens for me or telling me to shoot the ball when you’ve got four championships and 100 All-Stars and you’re the greatest power forward to ever play the game.’ And he didn’t care about the limelight or getting accolades or individual this or that, he just wanted to win games and he treated us like we were the guy, but really, we know who the man is around here.”
Even at age 40 last season, Duncan was the anchor in the paint for the Spurs’ top ranked defense which held teams to 96.6 Points per 100 Possessions. Through 27 games this season, even without Duncan, the Spurs still have a Top-3 defense (101.5 Pp/100 – 3rd), but as Green said Sunday evening, he feels Duncan’s missing presence back there in the paint even today, despite the Spurs’ early success.
“For me it’s him being back there covering for me,” said Green. “Whenever I make mistakes defensively, he’s always been the guy to help me out. Cover my ass when I’m making mistakes. Altering shots, blocking shots and rebounding, and out-letting the ball, he was the guy. Like I said, he was the glue, especially toward the end of his career when he wasn’t the go-to guy or getting a lot of shots. He still rebounded and did all the little things defensively and had the ball moving and made sure we were in the right places. He made our offense crisper. For me, defensively is what I miss about him, him being there and helping me not get subbed out as much.”
While Duncan may no longer be playing today with the 2017 Spurs, his legacy and the foundation he has helped build has continued even without him on the floor. The Spurs’ players play the game the right way, without trying to boast or show off, while they’re still in position to be a title contender, as they have a top 10 offense and defense. For these Spurs and those that will be on the team in the future, they’ll just have to look up at the rafters to remember why the franchise has had so much success, and a large part of that is because of number 21.