Ask a couple casual fans about the best players in this generation — the generation following Michael Jordan. You'll probably hear Kobe Bryant quite a bit. Some Shaq, too. Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett. Even Allen Iverson.
San Antonio Spurs' Tim Duncan's name won't come up often. Not because he isn't in the same tier of those players. But it just isn't fun to talk about a guy whose signature move will never make SportsCenter — an innocuous bank shot from the elbow. His gigantic hands fling the ball, it hangs in the air briefly, and the basketball almost always takes a perfect carom off the backboard and into the net. It's effortless, and he can make this shot against any post player in the league.
Duncan's been doing this for 16 years.
Not many big men, much less lumbering 37-year-olds, can dive to the rim, catch a pass in stride and find either Tiago Splitter for a quick duck in or a teammate spotting up in the corner if the defense collapses to wall off the paint. It's nothing to jump about. The play is instantaneous — boom, boom, boom. Blink and you'll miss it. And then Duncan just jogs to the other end of the floor, where he's every bit the dominant interior force he was in his prime. He just keeps making the right basketball plays.
LeBron James, the heir to the previous generation's throne, couldn't help but mention Duncan's sustained dominance during NBA Finals media day yesterday.
“If you look at the last 15 years, he’s probably been the most consistent, most dominant player that we’ve had as far as all 15 years all together,” James said.
Shane Battier, one of the most candid interviews in the NBA, admires Duncan's approach to basketball. He filters out all the nonsense — narratives, the media, the fame he can easily have if he wanted it — and trusts in his process.
“He’s about the work,” Battier said. “And it’s refreshing. A lot of today’s players, it’s about more than the game. But with Duncan, it always has been just about the game.”
Duncan engaged the media yesterday wearing, of all things, flip-flops. Does that not prove Battier's point?
It's typical Duncan. He's quirky, oftentimes very hard to read, but he knows himself well enough that nothing else matters. He's arguably the league's best player since Jordan and easily the most nondescript superstar the league has seen in a long time.