New York Daily News



TIM DUNCAN won his first championsh­ip all the way back in 1999 at the expense of the Knicks, who were playing without an injured Patrick Ewing. The Knicks haven’t been back since. Duncan’s last title, in 2014, started the break-up of the Miami Heat as LeBron James left for Cleveland within three weeks. That’s how many generation­s of players, coaches, executives and teams Duncan’s brilliant career spans. Change is inevitable in the NBA, especially in today’s win-now, build-your-brand culture.

Duncan, though, never changed despite playing in three decades. He stayed in one place, he always won and he now exits just as he arrived: with a quiet dignity that marked his 19 seasons in the league.

“His understate­d selflessne­ss made him the ultimate teammate,” NBA commission­er Adam Silver said in a statement. “For two decades Tim represente­d the Spurs, the city of San Antonio and the league with passion and class.”

We never really got to know Duncan and that’s just how he wanted it. The one time we saw a different side of him was two years ago after he won the last of his five NBA championsh­ips with the Spurs. It was Father’s Day and as Duncan’s teammates strained to touch the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Duncan embraced his young daughter and son and began crying.

“For whatever reason, it is sweeter than any other,” Duncan said at the time. “Whether it be because of the time frame, because I’m coming toward the end of my career, because I can have these two here (children Sydney and Draven) and really remember it and enjoy the experience, all of those things make it that much more special.”

It was the one time the immensely private Duncan let his guard down. Monday’s retirement announceme­nt was classic Duncan: a simple press release issued by the team. He always hated those long goodbyes.

There is nothing wrong with Kobe Bryant’s recently completed farewell tour. He, the Lakers and the league got what they wanted. Duncan was never going to subject himself to be honored in visiting arenas from October to April.

He probably knew the 2015-16 season would be his last and only let a few of his close personal friends, teammates and Gregg Popovich in on his plans. The rest of us found out on Monday.

It’s interestin­g that Duncan left the smallmarke­t Spurs exactly one week after Kevin Durant abruptly left the small-market Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook to chase championsh­ips with the Golden State Warriors. If Durant honestly believed he could never win in OKC, how does he explain Duncan and San Antonio?

Unlike Duncan, Durant wasn’t drafted to a team that had an establishe­d superstar in David Robinson and a cast of savvy veterans. By Duncan’s second year, he and the Spurs won their first title and over the years Duncan would win championsh­ips with a different cast of characters every time.

For a while, Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were San Antonio’s Big 3 before we ever called it that. Two years ago, Kawhi Leonard was the Spurs’ best player.

Duncan’s credential­s put him as the greatest power forward the game has known. But in many ways he holds a more important title: the quintessen­tial franchise player of the last 30 years. Think about it. He spent his entire career with one team, captured five championsh­ips, two MVPs, three Finals MVPs and toward the end he sacrificed money, minutes and shots to keep the Spurs competitiv­e. Who else does all of that?

The Spurs Way, as it is called, was made possible because of Duncan. Michael Jordan left the Bulls. Twice. Kobe’s final contract badly hampered the Lakers’ rebuilding plan. Dirk Nowitzki comes close, but he’s only won one title. John Stockton made two NBA Finals, but lost both.

Dwyane Wade was on that path, but instead of finishing what he started in Miami, Wade took $7 million more to uproot his family and head to Chicago. nd now Durant joins the team he nearly beat in May.

It only reaffirms what we already knew, that Duncan is the last of a dying breed — a four-year college man beloved by his teammates, his employers and a city.

That’s a pretty good brand.


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