There’s a ridiculous amount of luck in being a sports fan. There’s bigger picture stuff, like what city you were born in, what team your dad or older brother rooted for or however else you randomly picked your favorite team as a child.
Then there’s the more specific stuff, like who your team happens to trade for or draft, when they’re bad and if it’s the right year for the right guy, if that player stays around, if that player doesn’t get hurt, if that player doesn’t get in trouble.
Nearly all of it is out of your control. You just get to root. Love the good, deal with the bad, move on with your life.
I was ten years old when the Spurs drafted Tim Duncan out of Wake Forest. I don’t have empirical data to back this up, but I’m about 99% certain that’s the perfect window to fall in love with your favorite players.
As adults, we all have athletes we enjoy watching perform at their sport’s highest points, but none will ever reach the level those guys from our youth did. It was more than simply scoring 20 points or smashing a game-winning homer or rushing for three touchdowns.
They were everything.
And of course, as you grow older, you realize that these guys are just that: guys. Some get hurt, some don’t reach their potential, some have impossibly high expectations and some disappoint you both on and off the court.
Of course, if you’re lucky, you avoid all of that.
I can say, as a Spurs fan my whole conscious life, I was among many that got to be that lucky fan when it came to Tim Duncan.
This isn’t a retrospective on his career or to point out this great game or that incredible stat… There’s enough out there, found easily. This is just acknowledging the luck I was fortunate to have to get to root for Tim Duncan.
He wasn’t the most athletic player, wasn’t the league’s best scorer or best rebounder or best passer. He doesn’t have the most championships or MVPs.
In all honesty, I think I’ll miss him most for what he didn’t do. He didn’t ever get in trouble off the court. He didn’t ever miss the playoffs. He didn’t ever make you feel like he wasn’t giving it his all. He didn’t ever commit a foul (I kid. But, seriously, this may be the one thing he did that consistently rubbed people the wrong way over his 19-year caree). He didn’t pound his chest or point to his ice-water-veins or scream at the top of his lungs after meaningless dunks or and-one’s.
People from the league, all day today, will tell you how he was the consummate teammate and will make arguments for his placement in the pantheon of NBA greats… But this much is certain: he was incredible to root for.
Today as I left my apartment, still well immersed in the Tim-Duncan-is-an-active-NBA-player universe, I tossed on this t-shirt. Well, not exactly that t-shirt. Mine is about 15 years old with a pretty sizable hole under the right armpit. But, same basic concept.
On my ride to the mall (finally able to answer yes to this question), I got two texts in quick succession. One, from the only real Spurs fan I know (also, an adult, like I am) saying “I’m hyperventilating and crying.” I had a sense for what that was about, a sense that was confirmed by the next text I received from my sister, “Just heard the news about Duncan.”
Once I had a chance to fully look at my phone and digest, I was shocked by how the news made me feel. All the videos, all the tributes and the tweets and commentary—we were all discussing him like he’d died, not just that he’d retired.
But in a way, for Spurs fans (and I suppose to some degree NBA fans at large that didn’t hate him per se, but respected from afar) it almost was like he was dying. You won’t see Duncan much, I’d imagine, because that’s simply the kind of guy he is. If there was ever a more perfect summation of a career, it’s Tim Duncan quietly announcing his retirement via the Spurs, who would hold a press conference at which he would not be present.
As a fan, you always want more. One more chance to say good-bye, to watch him lead the team or goof around with the guys. But, deep down, all Spurs fans knew this would be the way it had to go, whenever it had to go.
And that’s the sad part. Not that he’s moving on with his life or that there’s any regrets as to what the last 19 years have brought you as a fan, but that you’ll never be able to go back to that. Your childhood fandom is over, once and for all.
It lasted longer than most, that’s for sure.
And for that, all I can do is be thankful.