• Carson Hathaway

The all-time great NBA player no one talks about.

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

ESPN’s documentary, The Last Dance about Michael Jordan’s led Chicago Bulls has triggered a substantial conversation about who is the greatest basketball player of all time. Needing to create a conversation with the current nonexistence of sports, we have recently seen many lists of the greatest basketball players of all time. Players who are still playing or retired a short time ago would have an advantage in all-time player rankings because of recency bias. However, an NBA legend who retired less than five years ago isn’t very popular when discussions about the greatest players in basketball history arise.

Tim Duncan was drafted first overall in 1997 by the San Antonio Spurs and remained with the team for almost two decades. In his second season in the league, Duncan averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 53% from the field in the NBA finals as the Spurs captured their first title in franchise history. That was the first of five NBA championships Duncan ended up winning.

Duncan is unquestionably one of the most accomplished players in NBA history. Only Michael Jordan has more NBA Finals MVPs than Duncan. Additionally, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James have made more all-star games than Duncan. Most all-stars are excellent offensive players. But, Duncan was arguably greater than all of them on the defensive side of the ball. Duncan made an NBA All-Defensive team 15 times in his career. The next closest player in NBA history only made it 12 times. The accolades Duncan acquired throughout his career are nothing short of remarkable.

Nobody opposes the truth that Duncan was a good player, but many have pointed out that he’s had the luxury of playing for a great organization in the San Antonio Spurs. Duncan has been on some great teams, but he proved that he didn’t need them to be successful. He was teammates with David Robinson, Manu Ginóbili, and Tony Parker during the 2002-2003 season. On the surface it may seem like Duncan was playing on a loaded team, but David Robinson was 37 years old while Ginóbili and Parker were just in their 1st and 2nd seasons respectively. Duncan didn’t have a single teammate average over 15 points per game that season. Despite that, the Spurs were able to defeat the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers who were led by Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant on their way to an NBA championship. Duncan carrying the Spurs to a title during the 2002-2003 season doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

To be considered an all-time great NBA player, many think that you need to have won multiple championships while being a dominant individual player. Tim Duncan easily checks both of those boxes, so don’t forget to mention his name the next time a discussion about the greatest players in NBA history comes up.

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