Known for his flashy style of play and brash personality, Tim Duncan announced his retirement in a 2,000-word blog post under the headline, “I’m Out, Suckaz.”
No, no he didn’t. In fact, Tim Duncan didn’t announce anything. The Spurs released a statement yesterday on his behalf. The first line read, “San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan today announced that he will retire after 19 seasons with the organization,” and while there are 520 more words, none of them are from Duncan. Consider how unusual that is in an era where the standard operating procedure is for athletes to announce their retirement on The Players’ Tribune. That’s what Kobe did, through a poem in which he couldn’t decide between “and” or “&.” It’s what David Ortiz did in a two-minute video that featured multiple close-ups of his hands. Derek Jeter, founder of The Players’ Tribune, wrote 15 paragraphs on Facebook, and while his Yankee teammate Mariano Rivera simply called a press conference, both made the announcement before their final season.
It’s possible we’ll never know when Duncan knew for sure he’d retire. But I guarantee you this: Even if he had decided in November that this would be his last season, he wouldn’t have said anything. Perhaps Duncan realizes that athletes’ farewell tours are the worst.
Credit Kobe for requesting he not receive any gifts during his final season. Jeter, Rivera, and Ortiz made no such appeals and were showered with expensive basement clutter by every team they faced. These farewell tours have become an arms race and they need to stop.
Athletes, in announcing their retirements in advance, aren’t doing fans any favors. You might think the information allows fans to make sure they get to the ballpark to see their favorite player one last time. But ticket prices skyrocketed for Jeter’s final home games. Kobe’s last game was ridiculously expensive. Rey Ordonez and Edgardo Alfonzo were two of my favorite Mets. I didn’t know I was seeing them for the last time when I attended a game in 2002, and I didn’t care.
Maybe Duncan didn’t know he was done until yesterday. But he is coming off another productive season. It’s just as likely he made up his mind much earlier, but wanted none of the hoopla. Also, none of his memorable performances are questionable (sorry, Kobe, but you’re not scoring 60 against a team that doesn’t know it’s your last game).
Farewell tours have become the norm, so appreciate Duncan and players like Dirk Nowitzki, who explained his disdain for the practice to Sports Illustrated. “I’m not the guy who will say, ‘This is my last year,’” he said. “When I’m gone, I’m gone.”
Duncan is gone. I’ve been a fan of The Big Fundamental since his college years because my dad also went to Wake Forest. I picked Wake to win it all at least three of Duncan’s four years, and they’d inevitably bust my bracket. I was there in 1995 when Duncan and the Demon Deacons were eliminated in the Sweet 16. Duncan never made it to the Final Four.
He more than made up for it in the pros, winning five titles over his 19-year career. Only John Stockton, who also lasted 19 seasons but played 112 more games, had a longer career playing for just one team. For so many reasons—a star staying in college for four years; franchise loyalty; quietly stepping away—there will never be another Tim Duncan.
The satirical website The Onion has had many stories about Duncan over the years, all of them exaggerating his intelligence (“Tim Duncan Forwards Article About Particle Accelerator to Teammate”) or blandness (“Tim Duncan Hams It Up For Crowd By Arching Left Eyebrow Slightly”) or both (“Tim Duncan Calls Out Geometric Angle Needed To Make Bank Shot”). I had a running joke with a middle school friend in which we’d describe exciting situations and imitate Duncan’s reaction. “Tim Duncan after hitting the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Finals,” one of us would say, and then we’d look into space, emotionless. (We thought it was really clever at the time.)
Despite his place among basketball’s all-time greats, he never acted like it. Why would his retirement be any different?