‘No Smile, No Trash Talk’: Behind Tim Duncan’s Quiet Excellence
Tim Duncan stoically spent 19 fundamentally sound seasons allowing his play to speak for him.
Nineteen playoff appearances. Fifteen All-Star selections. Five championships. Five total Most Valuable Player Awards, three in the finals, two in the regular season. And this week, he’ll be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in a heralded class alongside Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant.
“You always get the question: What would you change? What would you do differently?” Duncan said in a video released by the Hall of Fame after his selection was announced last year. “Honestly, I don’t think there’s a change I would do differently.”
Duncan’s journey was one of happenstance and perseverance. He grew up a talented swimmer in St. Croix and left the sport when Hurricane Hugo devastated the island in 1989, destroying the pool where he competed. He started playing basketball in the ninth grade, setting him on a path to Wake Forest University, San Antonio and, now, Springfield, Mass.
The New York Times asked a group of his friends, teachers, teammates and coaches to speak about his journey.
Chris King (Wake Forest, men’s basketball, 1988-92): We had a group of guys that played in the N.B.A. they wanted to take down to the Virgin Islands because there was a lot of violence going on at the time.
The group of guys that we had was myself, Alonzo Mourning and Mark Tillmon from Georgetown, and we played games against guys from the islands.
The guys were getting ready to play one night and the whole place was packed. Here comes this skinny kid, walks in the gym — I didn’t know who he was — named Tim Duncan.
That was the first time I ever laid eyes on him.
The first thing I noticed about him was he had something that I had developed in high school: He could use the glass. I was very impressed.
Dave Odom (Duncan’s coach at Wake Forest): [King] came back early in September and was walking by my office and I just hollered at him: “Chris, come in here. I want to talk to you. Tell me about your trip.”
King: I said, “There was this kid down there.”
Odom: And I said: “Well, who was he? What was his name?”
He said, “I don’t know.”
I said, “Well, what island was he on?”
“I don’t know.”
So, he didn’t give me a lot other than there was a kid who had some skill. There was a coach on my staff at the time, Larry Davis, and he had coached a kid from the islands, maybe even St. Croix.
He came back the next day in our staff meeting and threw Tim Duncan’s name on the desk and said, “Coach, this is the kid.”
Odom was sold on Duncan after a trip to St. Croix. Wake Forest went 97-31 in his four years and finished 26-6 in two of those seasons, 1994-95 and 1995-96.