I was thinking about the breadth of Tim Duncan‘s career when the San Antonio Spurs announced his retirement in 2016. My first encounter with him took place in summer league in Utah back in 1997.
A number of people on my coaching staff with the Chicago Bulls were impressed with his game. I remained unconvinced.
He was effective in his rookie season — my last year with the Bulls. But we only played the Spurs twice.
Then came my year away, the Asterisk season of ’98-99, when the league started in February following a lockout. The Spurs, Tim and David Robinson were terrific in those playoffs.
I watched them in the series vs. the Los Angeles Lakers that year and saw how effective Tim was going to be. The Spurs swept the Lakers, and it cast doubt on my decision to go to LA.
Then we had our run of three straight championships (2000-02), and Tim was always the player we had to plan for in those series against the Spurs.
He had some limitations — free throws and on the left block, we could trap his right shoulder — but he overcame those limitations and the Spurs were able to stop our fourth chance at another championship.
When David retired, Tim had to carry a larger load, which initially affected him. But Tim took on the challenge.
In the 2008 playoffs it was apparent he was trying to play with a knee issue. It impacted him. It was then that I thought the end might be coming for his effectiveness. But he continued to play with the same presence for the next seven years.
I was amazed and completely taken by his dogged determination and his ability to overcome with grace and skill.
He will be missed. He is a winner.
My coach with the Knicks, Red Holzman, used this to measure a star: “How much better are the players who play with him?”
That was Tim Duncan.
Phil Jackson won 11 championships as coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. He currently resides in Montana.