Why's Timmy So Special? Tony, Manu and Pop Give Their Answers


Tony Parker was the first to speak at Tim Duncan’s jersey retirement ceremony on Sunday night in a packed AT&T Center. He admitted he was nervous, and said that many people had been asking him the same tough question, “Why Timmy so special?” Several times he repeated the question in that French accent of his, and it was definitely the theme of the night.

The Big Fundamental’s former teammates and coaches shared stories to answer that question, and it felt like basketball was barely mentioned. Fans know how special Duncan was on the court, they saw it every night for nearly 20 years. On this night, we got to hear about the human side of a player who was so stoic that it was easy to paint him as an emotionless double-double robot.

Parker started by talking about Duncan’s quiet excellence, how he was the only player that could put up 30 points and 20 rebounds in a game without anybody noticing. But according to Tony, what made him a true superstar (++) was his unselfishness and the way he made his teammates better.

He shared a story about how Duncan, then 50 40 years old, subbed in for an intern after practice one day and played defense on Boban for 20 minutes straight. The greatest power forward of all time put extra miles on his braced knees to help the last guy on the end of the bench get better.

Parker also touched on how much Tim cared about and supported teammates off the court. “When you play for Coach Pop you have to be very strong mentally, and that’s an understatement.”

Tony said he didn’t know how Timmy knew, but his hugs, texts, and words of encouragement always came at the right time. This is something that Manu Ginobili expanded on when he took the mic next.

Manu reflected on a playoff game that he blew on the last possession at Sacramento in 2006, back when Metta World Peace was Ron Artest. After the game, Tim called his hotel room relentlessly and took him out to dinner. The most surprising part about the story is that Duncan apparently calls his Argentinian buddy “Nanu”.

Ginobili also spoke about Duncan’s work ethic, and his sense of responsibility for his teammates. He took the blame for losses, and showed up early the next day at practice to work on his game. Manu closed by thanking Tim for the way he elevated everyone around him.

Head Coach Gregg Popovich was next, and in classic Pop fashion he started his speech by giving Wake Forest coach Dave Odom full credit for finding Duncan and immediately handing him the mic. When Odom called him the greatest coach in all of basketball, Pop looked like he was about to jump out of his seat and strangle him.

After Odom spoke on Timmy’s time as a Demon Deacon (one of the weirdest mascots in the entire sports world), he gave the floor back to Pop who thanked him for delivering a finished product in Duncan to San Antonio, saying that he didn’t have to do much work when he got him. Then, the normally reserved coach waxed poetic about his soulmate.

Pop talks about getting to know him on the island after the draft, and how he knew Tim was special because he talked about everything except basketball. The speech is solid gold, and filled with funny stories about carrot cake, backwards gym shorts and driving on the wrong side of the road in St. Croix.

The rarely emotive Popovich got choked up when talking about how coachable Duncan was. At the four minute mark in the video, he trails off and looks over at Timmy with tears in his eyes but none on his face. He stamps his foot as if to say, “Damn it Gregg, you said you weren’t gonna cry.” That moment gave us a lasting image of one of basketball’s great love stories.

He collected himself and finished his thought. “If your superstar can take a little hit now and then, everybody else can shut the hell up and fall in line.” Pop credited Duncan with setting a perfect example for all of his teammates, and thanked him for making his job easier. He followed it up with a hilarious story about when Tim almost went to Orlando.

“He played it up really well. Oh the water, it’s just like St. Croix, and I’m gonna have a boat and I’m gonna do this and I’m gonna do that… I mean we got the San Antonio River! We got boats! Finally he made a decision after putting me through the grinder for what seemed like an eternity. He came over one night – true story don’t you even try to deny it – he walks in he says Pop I gotta just tell you I’m going to Orlando. He waits like five or six seconds, and I’m stunned for a while, and then he tells me what he’s gonna do. I think I jumped up in his arms and hugged him.”

Popovich thanked Duncan for helping to build and grow the culture in San Antonio that gets talked about so much, and said that what made him really special was the way he welcomed everyone and led quietly but with gravitas. He ribbed him for not being that impressed with Ginobili when he first came to the Spurs, and noted that Timmy never did thank him for that. “Maybe later on tonight you’ll admit that, I don’t know.”

Closing on an emotional note, Pop reflected on the promise that he made to Tim’s father before he passed away.

Then, it was Timmy’s turn to speak. It started with a short video, and it would have been perfectly Tim Duncan if he used that as a way to wriggle out of actually doing a speech. He did step up to the mic, and started with, “In retrospect I should have saved that whole speech for right now, cause I don’t even know what I’m gonna say right now.”

In his speech, he exhibited the selflessness and humility that everyone else had said made him special. He thanked the fans and his teammates for the outpouring of love and support, saying that he got more from them than he ever gave them in return.

He thanked his family for being there through the grind of his career. He thanked Coach Odom for giving him a chance. He thanked Pop and RC Buford for putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and building a winning culture.

“Thank you Coach Pop, for being more than a coach… for being like a father to me thank you.” At this point, you would have been hard pressed to find a dry eye in the arena. When Timmy finally did talk about himself, it was to self-deprecate.

When the speeches ended, they raised the jersey of the greatest Spur to ever live where it belongs: in the rafters with the five championship banners he put there. So how do we answer Tony’s question, “why Timmy so special?” To put it simply, love. For his family, for his teammates, for his coach, for the game of basketball, and for the fans.


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