A thankful Gregg Popovich bids farewell to ‘irreplaceable’ Duncan

Associated Press

Gregg Popovich bade an emotional farewell to Tim Duncan‘s playing career Tuesday, the longtime San Antonio coach saying the now-retired Spurs star was the best teammate anyone could have known.

Sounding as if he were choking up at times and wearing a T-shirt with Duncan’s face printed on the front, Popovich spoke at the Spurs’ practice facility in San Antonio. Duncan announced his retirement after 19 seasons on Monday in a statement released through the Spurs.

“Irreplaceable,” Popovich said of the five-time NBA champion.

Duncan and Popovich won more games together than any player-coach combination in NBA history. Popovich said he hopes Duncan will remain involved with the Spurs in some capacity, even if only part time.

Popovich spoke while standing in a corner of the practice facility, the spot where he holds court with reporters after workouts during the season. There was no news conference, no elaborate setup, not even any live coverage permitted. Even for something that will have so much impact on the team, the league and the sport, the Spurs kept things as simple as possible.

Duncan is leaving. Other than that, nothing’s changing.

“It’s not Tim Duncan to bring any attention to himself,” Popovich said. “We’ve been saying it for 19 years and he really only cared about doing the best job he could basketballwise and being who he was for his teammates and being somebody who loved his family. That’s really who he is. So this is the furthest thing from his mind.”

Popovich spoke at length about how if he could pick one person to share a dinner with, it would be Duncan.

“To spend time with Timmy is really sublime in many ways,” Popovich said. “People don’t know about his cleverness. … But his teammates have and that’s why his teammates love him, because he’s been the best teammate anyone can ever imagine.”

There were moments of humor, too.

“I remember a pretty neat summer league game when he first came in and (Greg) Ostertag blocked his shot,” Popovich said when asked if there was a moment in Duncan’s career that he enjoyed most. “That was pretty cool.”

Associated Press Writer Raul Dominguez in San Antonio contributed to this report.