SAN ANTONIO — "On a professional level, the most concise way to put it is, 'no Duncan, no championships.' And on a personal level, I love the guy," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said to open a media session focused on Tim Duncan ahead of his Basketball Hall of Fame induction later this month.
The five-time NBA champion widely regarded as the greatest power forward of all time will take his rightful place among the other legends of the game in a ceremony that will also honor Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant, among others.
"Any coach who has their best player as a leader who is respected by everybody and who can handle criticism makes the job much easier, so I was very fortunate in that regard," Popovich said.
"We still toast him when we have dinner, as we've said before, 'thank you Timmy,'" Pop said with a chuckle. "When asked if he ever gets 'thank you Pop' from Timmy at those dinners, Popovich responded, "He's not invited."
As for Duncan's upcoming speech at his induction ceremony, Pop isn't expecting many words.
"He really tries to stay away from those kinds of moments, he doesn't like talking about himself, he's never been a chest thumper, looking for the camera or anything like that," Popovich said. "He's quite selfless and pretty much just a homebody, that's just who he is. I actually have not talked to him one second about what he's gonna say, or anything like that, this is all about him, and he's got to feel comfortable with what he's doing. I really don't know how he'll react, but I don't think he's gonna be up there for a real long time, speaking."
When asked about Duncan's trademarked bank shot, Pop had a lot to say.
"One of the things that made it special is because it's so rare, not many people really use that to any degree," he said. "His size on top of shooting the bank shot was a pretty special thing. It was one of the first fundamental things I think everybody noticed about him, it wasn't like an 8 footer or 10 footer, he did it from 18 to 20 feet, and his footwork was great, and he knew how to land it on the backboard. It was a rarity, it still is as a matter of fact, but that was his first signature move that I think everybody realized there was probably something pretty special about this guy."
When asked about why people don't shoot that banker more now, Pop noted the way basketball has changed.
"In today's game, shooting bank shots from three is probably not gonna be great," he said. "That's what we all do, live and die shooting threes, and I don't think anybody's gonna start practicing banking it from those distances. Maybe Steph can do it, but I don't know if anybody else can."
Duncan's impact and legacy is certainly bigger than one move, and also bigger than what he did on the floor.
"With his teammates, he set the quiet example of competing every day," Pop said. "He always took the lead, even Manu and Tony looked toward him, and he gave of himself in a very humble and quiet way. As far as the teams were concerned, the championship teams were all kind of different. New guys kept coming in to round it out, and he was the guy who welcomed them all. He was the one who made them all feel comfortable and let them know what he expected of them. His standards were really high, he suffered no fools, but he gave everybody an opportunity to commit to the role and fulfill it."
Duncan spoke about his innate competitiveness, his love of playing, his hatred of losing, and the path he took here.
"I'm not gonna name one thing I appreciated most, I appreciate the journey, and I enjoy it even more now looking back, and missing being a part of that." Duncan said.
"In the same respect, having gone through it, just understanding just how present you have to be every day, every game. I think I was better at that later in my career as you kinda see the end coming, where you're just like, 'Ok, I'm here tonight, I'm gonna appreciate this game tonight, I'm gonna appreciate this moment tonight, this practice today, I'm going to be present instead of being like, 'oh I've got to just get through this.' It happens fast, it goes by fast, so I look back and appreciate the entire journey," he said.
"The whole thing doesn't happen the whole thing isn't as much fun, the ability to go out there and do it over and over again is nothing without the fans. Trust men, that is a big part of what I miss, what an amazing fanbase we have," he said.
Popovich spoke about the family relationship, and welled up a bit recalling a conversation with Duncan's late father.
"He told me in his last days, pulled me over and said, 'My boy better not change, you cannot let my boy change, I want him to be the same person he is today," Pop said. "He is."