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Charles Barkley saw the future of the power forward position the very first time he shared the floor with San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan.

Timmy D entered the NBA just as Barkley began to wind down a tumultuous tenure with the Houston Rockets, one later highlighted by a disintegrating relationship with Scottie Pippen. It took Duncan no time to show Barkley he planned on snatching Chuck’s torch and cementing his place among the greatest players in NBA history.

Charles Barkley heaped praise on Tim Duncan the first time he played against the Spurs rookie

L-R: Charles Barkley celebrates during a 1997 NBA Playoff game and Tim Duncan at the 1997 NBA Draft
Charles Barkley (L) and Tim Duncan (R) | Left to Right: Robert Sullivan/AFP via Getty Images and Craig Jones /Allsport

The San Antonio Spurs had a straightforward choice with the No. 1 overall selection in the 1997 NBA Draft: Wake Forest big man Tim Duncan.

Duncan dominated the collegiate ranks. In four seasons at Wake, Duncan averaged 16.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks. He earned a pair of All-America honors and won the Wooden Award as the most outstanding player in the country during his senior season. The Spurs made Duncan the first overall pick, giving them a stellar frontcourt duo of Timmy and David Robinson.

The Demon Deacons star made an immediate impact on Charles Barkley in a preseason matchup between the Spurs and Rockets. He proved his skills could translate to the NBA, in turn reminding Barkley that his own hourglass did not have many grains of sand left. Chuck called Duncan (h/t Internet Archive) the “future” of basketball.

“I have seen the future, and he wears No. 21.”

–Charles Barkley, via Tim Duncan: Slam Duncan (2000) by Kevin Kernan

No. 1 picks are typically supposed to be productive NBA players, but some fail to reach All-Star status while others draw the infamous “bust” label.

However, Barkley’s praise of Duncan proved prophetic. Not only did Timmy D live up to the hype, he far exceeded it.

Duncan became arguably the greatest power forward in NBA history

Charles Barkley and Karl Malone defined the power forward position for much of the 1990s. But Tim Duncan, though a mild-mannered individual, arrived like a freight train, emphatically grabbing the mantle from Chuck and The Mailman.

Duncan averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.5 blocks in his very first season with the Spurs in 1997-98, making the All-Star team and earning Rookie of the Year honors while being named All-NBA First Team. San Antonio won 56 games, 36 more than the previous season. Just one year later, the Spurs captured their first NBA championship.

But that first title? Only the tip of the iceberg. Duncan won back-to-back league MVPs in 2002 and 2003, leading San Antonio to its second championship. He’d go on to win three more rings with the Spurs, finishing his career with 15 All-Star selections and whopping nods for both the All-NBA and All-Defensive teams.

The Big Fundamental’s extraordinary two-way resume ranks among the very best, if not the best, at the power forward position. Some within NBA circles openly wonder why Duncan is “overlooked” in NBA history. But not Barkley. Chuck paid Duncan the ultimate compliment when the Spurs great retired in 2016.

Barkley called Timmy the best power forward ever

Suffice to say, Tim Duncan lived up to the praise Charles Barkley gave him back in 1997. When Duncan’s career came to an end in 2016, the Round Mound of Rebound made sure to pay his respects.

Barkley said during an appearance on NBA TV (h/t Def Hoops on YouTube) in 2016 that Duncan is the greatest power forward ever, though he seemingly replaced Duncan when asked about his top 5 players. Chuck also lauded the five-time NBA champion during a segment on ESPN’s Get Up in April 2020, hailing Timmy as the rare superstar who relinquished responsibility and let others grab the spotlight.

Duncan is one of the quieter and more unassuming superstars in history. But his game spoke volumes as soon as he stepped on an NBA floor, even to fellow Hall of Famers like Barkley.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and CBB Reference.