When the San Antonio Spurs won the 1997 NBA lottery – long before they drafted Tim Duncan – Spurs chairman Peter Holt referenced the Wake Forest big man and said, “The world is our oyster.”
Holt very well could have been imagining multiple Most Valuable Player awards and twice as many championships won by his No. 1 pick. That’s what every team dreams of when it lands the top pick.
The reality is few teams actually get it.
In the last 25 drafts, Duncan is the only No. 1 pick to win a championship with the team that picked him. Going back further, the last top pick to win a title with his original team was David Robinson, who reached the conference finals only once before Duncan showed up.
Holt was right. The world was the Spurs’ oyster, and Duncan was the catalyst for all of it. He spent one season as Robinson’s No. 2 and a short time as the Hall of Famer’s peer and then became the team’s unquestioned top player. Duncan won MVPs in 2002 and 2003 and was center stage for championships in 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 and could be again this season.
But a funny thing happened along the way. Duncan stopped becoming recognized as San Antonio’s top player.
After Duncan was named Finals MVP for the Spurs’ first three titles, Tony Parker won the award in 2007. In each the last five years Parker and/or Manu Ginobili finished ahead of Duncan in regular-season MVP voting.
Duncan is clearly in a different place than LeBron James, whose legacy has been most discussed in the lead up to tonight’s Game 7. Yet, so much is still at stake for Duncan.
With a fifth title, Duncan could erase the biggest advantage Kobe Bryant holds in argument about the greatest player in the era between Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron. Duncan already has more playoff wins than 20 current franchises, and with he could tie the Phoenix Suns tonight. Plus, a fifth title would boost his case as the best power forward of all time.
LeBron, the most scrutinized player of all time, has more to lose, but Duncan is also fighting for his place in history.
At 37, Duncan might not control as much of his own fate as he once did, but he’s still capable of posting 25 points and eight rebounds in a half, as he did in the first two quarters of Game 6. But he also went scoreless in the fourth quarter and overtime as San Antonio lost its lead.
At this point, Duncan can still do plenty, but he clearly needs help. History will remember his fifth title more than how he got it, though. If Duncan summons the production he had in the first half of Game 6 and gets the necessary support, Holt could be singing his praises again – this time on a stage at center of American Airlines Arena.
Once again, the world is the Spurs’ oyster, right there for the taking. Duncan has a chance to seize his legacy, too.
Duncan is a once-in-a-generation player with one more chance to prove he’s the player of his generation.