Professional athletes are usually the center of attention. San Antonio Spurs big man Tim Duncan, however, never fit that mold. While ‘the Big Fundamental’ was a dominant player on the court, he was also pegged as being incredibly boring. There was no room for flair or embellishment in Duncan’s game; he simply wanted to win.
That reputation for being dull, however, may have helped Tim Duncan on the court. In fact, the forward even claimed that his on-court demeanor could break opponents, giving him the mental edge.
Tim Duncan’s dominant NBA career
During his time on the hardwood, Tim Duncan was never the most exciting player to watch. Despite that reality, the big man quietly worked his way to the top of the NBA landscape.
While Duncan grew up swimming in the U.S. Virgin Islands, he took to basketball with incredible ease. He moved to the mainland and played his NCAA ball at Wake Forest; while the Demon Deacons never won a National Championship, their big man made an immediate impact. He stayed at school for all four years, averaging 16.4 points and 12.3 rebounds for his college career, and taking home the 1997 John Wooden Award as men’s player of the year.
The San Antonio Spurs snagged Duncan with the first-overall pick of the 1997 NBA draft. The forward didn’t miss a beat and promptly earned every Rookie of the Month award that season; unsurprisingly, he would also claim the Rookie of the Year title. He would go on to have an incredibly consistent and dominant pro career, winning five NBA titles and two leave MVP awards during his 19 seasons in the league.
Using his boring play to break opponents
During his professional career, Tim Duncan was never one to make headlines. On the court, he preferred a simple bank shot to rim-rattling slam dunks. Off the court, things weren’t much more exciting; in an interview, for example, he explained that his one wish would be “good health” and that if he could choose any pet, it would be “a dog.”
While that personality became a running joke—The Onion, for example, ran headlines joking that the forward did his teammates’ taxes and ensured that championship parades followed local ordinances, among other things—Duncan also believed it gave him an advantage during the game. While most players are happy to engage in trash talk, the Spur stayed silent so he could “destroy people’s psyches.”
“You absolutely destroy them,” Duncan, who studied psychology in college, told S.L Price in 2003. “They can’t get inside your head. They’re talking to you, and there’s no response other than to make this shot, make this play, get this rebound, and go the other way. People hate that.”
Boring or not, Tim Duncan is now a Hall of Famer
Although Tim Duncan was never the most exciting player to watch, he still put together a legendary career. That status was confirmed on Saturday when the Spurs forward was confirmed as a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2020 induction class.
While being boring on the court might have helped Duncan get an edge on the court, it wasn’t performative. He was just being himself, and that meant focusing on winning above everything else.
“Everybody always talks about who they’d like to eat dinner with,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich explained after Duncan announced his retirement in 2016. “If you had one night, you could go to dinner, go to lunch with so and so, who would you like to do it with? And I can honestly tell you my dinner would be with Timmy. And it would be because he’s the most real, consistent, true person I’ve ever met in my life.”