In Saturday’s New York Times, Harvey Araton has a piece on Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, comrades in court action, and how different they stand from the modern generation of market-chasing, self-aggrandizing drama queens that currently permeate the landscape. Let’s start here: I’m an NBA modernist. I don’t go for the “back in my day…” crap because there have always been egomaniacs, there will always be egomaniacs at this level of professional sports, and in reality, it’s most often a good thing. But Duncan and Popovich stand as something completely different and offer an alternative way to handle yourselves.
Imagine a superstar who doesn’t undermine his coach, doesn’t balk at touches or direction and doesn’t chafe at the idea of discipline. Then imagine that player has enjoyed 13 years of NBA title contention. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? From the NY Times:
“Unlike some other guys, I’ve been lucky,” he said. “With the teams we’ve had, with the focus of the people here wanting to put winning teams together, of having a system and sticking to it. There’s no better way to do it. It’s a special situation, obviously, and everybody can’t have it.
“In other places, coaches come in and out, and there are guys who have four or five in the same amount of years, and that’s a situation I can see why you’d want to get out of. But people changing for size of market? That I really don’t understand.”
When Duncan was asked if any of the young N.B.A. power brokers — for instance, Dwight Howard, who reportedly went backdoor in an attempt to oust Coach Stan Van Gundy in Orlando while refusing to commit to the franchise beyond next season — had ever sought his counsel on the benefits of laying deep roots, he shook his head and said, simply, “Nope.”
Told of the exchange, R. C. Buford, the Spurs’ general manager, laughed and said, “Very few people can have a conversation with Tim that would last long enough for them to get that much out of it.”
Don’t talk. Don’t say anything. Just do your job and win titles.
Now, we may be on the verge of seeing a return of this mindset. Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, these guys are the new model of appropriate action. John Wall, were he to be put in the position to succeed, certainly seems the type. But for players that talk so much about winning and then do things like request trades to the Nets, maybe looking at the greatest power forward of all time might give you an idea that you don’t have to act like Jordan and Kobe to succeed. There is a way to win with dignity in this league.
But maybe the money really just is that important.