UNCASVILLE, Connecticut — St. Croix legend Tim Duncan — who made a 19-year NBA career out of letting his basketball play speak for him — gave an All-Star speaking performance at the Basketball Hall of Fame that thrilled the crowd on a different stage Saturday night.
Accompanied by San Antonio Spurs Hall of Famer David Robinson, and with his only NBA head coach, Gregg Popovich, Duncan — whose famously stoic demeanor followed him throughout his great career — admitted he’d never been more nervous than he was before the induction ceremony.
“I will try to get through this,” the 15-time All-Star, 15-time All-Defensive Team and 15-time All-NBA selection said with a smile. “This is the most nervous I have ever been in my life. I’ve been through Finals, through Game 7s, and this officially is the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. I’ve been pacing in my room all day, so let’s see what we get.”
The USVI icon began by thanking Robinson, with whom he won two of his five championships with the Spurs, for showing him how to be a pro. Like Garnett, Duncan also thanked his fellow NBA inductees for making him better.
“People always ask, ‘What did he tell you? What did he show you?'” Duncan said of Robinson, before adding, with a laugh: “I don’t remember one thing we sat down and talked about specifically.
“But what he did was he was a consummate pro, he was an incredible father, he was an incredible person, and he showed me how to be a good teammate, a great person to the community, all those things. Not by sitting there and telling me how to do it, but by being that.”
Duncan also thanked his parents, William and Ione, and joked they had a combined “zero basketball knowledge” between them.
“But they taught me about the game more than anyone else,” Duncan said. “You heard the mantra that my mom instilled in me — good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better is your best — they told me, and made me, have pride in everything I did.”
He then discussed his remarkable journey, from not picking up a basketball until he was 14 years old to earning a scholarship to Wake Forest by playing a pickup game at a court near the hotel where his eventual college coach, Dave Odom, stayed.
“I have no idea how I played, but I played well enough that he offered me a scholarship,” Duncan said. “He saw something in me, and he took a chance on this kid from the [U.S. Virgin] Islands. Thank you, Coach O, thank you for seeing something in me that I didn’t see at the time.”
Duncan went through his career, highlighting many of his teammates, before eventually settling on two fixtures of so much of his time in San Antonio, teammates Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili — both of whom were in attendance.
“To look to your left and look to your right and have the same guys there year in and year out is unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a blessing beyond what I can put into words. Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, I can’t wait to see you guys up here and for me to not be up here. It was an honor sharing the court with you guys. Thank you for your friendship, thank you for your brotherhood, thank you for all of the experiences that we shared on that court.”
Then, after choking up while talking about his wife and children, Duncan finally turned his attention to Popovich, whom Duncan joked would be angry he talked about him at all.
“I don’t want to talk about him. He’s going to get mad at me if I talk about him,” Duncan said.
“The standard you set … you showed up after I got drafted, you came to my island, you sat with my friends, my family, you talked with my dad. I thought that was normal. It’s not. You’re an exceptional person.
“Thank you for teaching me about basketball but, beyond that, teaching me that it’s not all about basketball. It’s about what’s going on in the world, your family … just, for everything. Thank you for being the amazing human being that you are.”