Monday, December 8, 2008

The Magic of "Merlin"


My previous post talked about David Robinson and his almost unreachable dreams of a championship. The 1996-1997 season brought nothing good to the franchise except for one thing, they positioned themselves for a chance to select the No.1 draft pick, which they eventually did. Enter stage left: Tim Duncan.

If there ever was a manna from heaven that can be given to an NBA team, it came in the form of a 6'11 sized big man in '97. There he was, good kid, good family, good schooling, and a hell of a game. Timmy was a scorer, rebounder, and block-shot artist par excellence. The low-post game and defense he brought were of the highest order. Add to that, he's a total team player. Even before he stepped into an NBA court officially, he had it made. And the best thing about him then was that in a league that had kids jumping into it, staying only a few years in college, and bringing their ego that was disproportional to the actual talent they had, the only attitude Tim had was that of a real winner.

And the best thing that could ever happen to him at that point in time did, David took him under his wing. The good boy suddenly learned to become the great man he would eventually become. It's also a testament to the greatness of "The Admiral" that he never felt threatened or jealous of the young man.

A year passed (along the way he collected his uncontested Rookie of the Year Award) and the reign of "His Airness" ended due to retirement. Who would then step up? The Twin Towers of course. All throughout the season, Duncan stamped his class. They beat the New York Knicks in their first ever trip to the finals and it ended the long journey of David Robinson. The ring was his. He was officially, a champion. And for the other heavily criticized Spurs, redemption was theirs. Avery Johnson silenced all his critics in that series, draining that title-winning shot in game 5 that was pure magic (especially in my then young eyes). As for Sean Elliot, he helped shoot a way for the team into the finals, all the time hiding a very fatal kidney problem (what a man!). I'd like to mention Steve Kerr for being the most successful "Jordannaire," showing the best coming-on-his-own performance after the Bulls diaspora post-Michael, giving the Spurs the needed lifts consistently.

Going back to Timmy, it would only be the start. The MVP's, All-NBA teams, All-Defensive Teams, All-Star inclusions, and Finals MVP's would come in bunches. Everyone knew how good he was. I know then and now that he is the best player in the world, bar none.

Tim is a true distinguished gentleman in the mold of his NBA mentor. He has a foundation involved in health awareness/research, education, and youth sports/recreation. The story about him that's truly unforgettable and remarkable for me is that when his mother lay dying, he promised to get his college degree for her. He did, eschewing early big money in order to honor his mother. He is a man to look up to, literally and figuratively.

He's called by many handles like Big Fundamental (for the basic game of his), Groundhog Day (for his consistency), and Merlin (for his love of fantasy RPGs). And yes, he's been called the most boring player in the league. My take on this is that a lot of people equate his effectiveness, basic game, and consistency to a boring personality. What a load of baloney! His game is really beautiful to watch, in connection to the overall Spurs play. It's truly a sight to behold, even for non-basketball purists. He doesn't want to engage other players in their emotional outbursts. It can be just a waste of energy with all their shouts, jigs, thumps, and what-nots. He has no wasted motions in the court. Pizzazz is not part of his game. One can really be whirlwind of excitement on the court, but in the end, bring home nothing. His game may look simple, but his championships and awards bear out its success. I'll take the Duncan way of playing anytime (not that I'll ever be any good...).

A lot of players have been hailed as the "next" Michael Jordan but they always come up way short. Thank God Timmy was never offered this proposition. Sure, they don't play the same position but that's beside the point. Timmy got it right. The others have tried to knock MJ out of his place in the pantheon of the basketball gods but proved incapable. Our boy just took his own route and is already there taking his seat beside the games greats.

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