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Tim Duncan embodied 'Spurs Way' with his defense, fundamentals, humility and poise

Duncan will be among the greats, including the late Kobe Bryant, named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2020 on Saturday.
Credit: AP
Spurs power forward Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, who played with the Boston Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves, are both going into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.

SAN ANTONIO — It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Before the global outbreak of the coronavirus, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame was scheduled to announce its Class of 2020 during the NCAA Men's Final Four this weekend in Atlanta.

Instead, the Hall will reveal the latest inductees Saturday at 11 a.m. on ESPN.

Spurs icon Tim Duncan, who played on all five of the franchise's championship teams during a 19-year career, will be among the greats named to the Class of 2020.

Nicknamed "The Big Fundamental" by Shaquille O'Neal, Duncan made the Hall in his first year of eligibility. He will join three other Spurs who played for San Antonio at least five seasons: George Gervin, David Robinson and Artis Gilmore. 

Always one to shun the spotlight, Duncan has not commented publicly about the Hall since the announcement in February that he was among the finalists for the Class of 2020. 

Duncan, 43, was selected by the Spurs with the No. 1 overall pick of the NBA Draft in 1997. A two-time league MVP and three-time Finals MVP, Duncan retired in the summer of 2016 and returned to the Silver and Black as an assistant coach before the 2019-20 season.

The greatest player in Spurs history, Duncan is the franchise's all-time leader in points (26,496), rebounds (15,091), blocks (3,020), minutes (47,368) and games (1,392). In league history, he’s fifth in double-doubles (841) and blocks, sixth in rebounding and 14th in scoring.

The Hall's Class of 2020 will include two other first-time finalists who were locks long before they retired, the late Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, both of whom had storied battles against Duncan and the Spurs.

Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others on Jan. 26. He was 41.

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, on Jan. 26.

Rudy Tomjanovich, who coached the Houston Rockets to back-to-back league titles in the mid-1990s, also is in, according to reports Friday. Tomjanovich was a finalist in 2017 and 2018.

Former college coach Eddie Sutton, a finalist for the seventh time, finally will enter the Hall, the Tulsa World reported Friday. A four-time National Coach of the Year, Sutton won a total of 806 games at Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma State and San Francisco. He reached the Final Four three times, and ranks No. 11 in career victories among major-college men's basketball coaches. 

The other three finalists for the Class of 2020 are former WNBA star Tamika Catchings, who is also eligible for the first time; Baylor coach Kim Mulkey, who has led three women's teams to NCAA national titles; and five-time Division II National Championship Coach of the Year Barbara Stevens.

The enshrinement for the Class of 2020 is scheduled for Aug. 28-30 in Springfield, Mass., but also could be moved depending on where the country is in its battle against the coronavirus.

One of the NBA’s most understated stars, Duncan endeared himself to his teammates, coaches and fans with his humility. A consummate team player, Duncan became the Spurs’ undisputed leader after Robinson retired in 2003.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Charlotte coach James Borrego, who served two different stints (2003-2010, 2015-18) as an assistant coach with the Spurs. “The humility, the transparency. Every loss, he took on his shoulders.

“Every win, he praised the people around him. That’s rare in today’s NBA culture. People want the praise. They want the spotlight on them. He never wanted it. He deflected it to his teammates and coaches and the organization.”

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Tim Duncan was the selected by the Spurs with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft and led the franchise to five championships during his 19-year career.

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Known affectionately as "Timmy" by his teammates and Spurs fans, Duncan has made San Antonio his home since he was a rookie. He adapted to the NBA quickly after playing at Wake Forest for four seasons, averaging 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.5 blocks and 39.1 minutes as a rookie in 1997-98.

With Duncan and Robinson leading the way, the Spurs went 56-26 that season after going 20-62 the previous campaign when injuries limited Robinson to only six games.

San Antonio won its first championship in Duncan's second season, winning the series in the Finals against the New York Knicks in five games. Duncan was Finals MVP, averaging 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.2 blocks.

Duncan was a 15-time All-NBA selection, tied for most all time with Bryant, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James, and a 15-time All-Star. Duncan also made the All-Defensive Team a record 15 times. He averaged 19.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.1 blocks and 34.0 minutes in the regular season during his career.

Duncan played in 251 playoff games, No. 2 all time, and averaged 20.6 points, 11.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 37.3 minutes.

Duncan was college basketball’s player of the year as a senior (1996-97) at Wake Forest. Given today’s times, Duncan probably will be the last basketball star to stay in college for four seasons before going on to become a franchise player in the NBA.

In a nutshell, Duncan was all about winning. The Spurs reflected that mindset, going 1,072-438 during his career. The .710 winning percentage is the best 19-year stretch in league history.

Duncan’s low-key demeanor on and off the court defined him and reflected the Silver and Black’s culture. True to his understated personality, Duncan didn't give way to his emotions when his jersey number was retired and raised to the rafters at the AT&T Center on Dec. 19, 2016.

Duncan's eyes grew misty at times, especially when he talked about his close relationship with Popovich, but he made it through his remarks without breaking down. Duncan spoke for only a little more than four minutes.

"To all of you in here in the stands, all of San Antonio, thank you," Duncan said. "The love and support is overwhelming, especially over the last couple of weeks. . . I got so much more from you guys, from my teammates, from these guys over here (former teammates) than they can explain that they got from me, and I know that."

Credit: Photo by Antonio Morano bit.ly/XR79FT / Special to KENS5.com
Tim Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich share a hug near the end of the ceremony to retire Duncan's jersey on Dec. 18, 2016 at the AT&T Center.

Duncan spoke poignantly about Popovich, who has coached all five of the Spurs' championship teams.

"Thank you, Coach Pop for being more than a coach," Duncan said.

With his voice catching, he added: "For being more like a father to me."

Earlier in the ceremony, Popovich became emotional when he talked about what it was like to coach Duncan.

"He's an enigma in some ways," Popovich said. "You think Kawhi Leonard doesn't talk much. When Timmy first got here, it was like mental telepathy. I would say something to him and he would stare. I wasn't sure if he was paying attention. He was a great collegian, and played at a great program, so I'm figuring he understands what I'm saying.

"Finally, I realize he understood everything that I was saying, probably agreed with about half of it, but he's so respectful that he wouldn't say anything until later. He won't do it in front of the team and sometimes I'd be merciless."

With his voice cracking, Popovich had to pause to get the words out.

"And for that, I'm very thankful because you allowed me to coach the team," Popovich said. "If your superstar can take a little hit now and then, everybody else can shut the hell up and fall in line. That man did that for me. He allowed me to coach.