the 2017 nba playoffs are missing tim duncan [published on the step back]

It’s safe to say the 2017 NBA playoffs, thus far, have been both entertaining and enjoyable. We got to see Russell Westbrook turbo off for 51-13-10. We’ve watched the Bulls start off strong and the Celtics mount a comeback. Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked a shot with his elbow. We even witnessed what might be Blake Griffin’s last game in a Clippers jersey. And yet, something’s missing. A big something. A fundamental something. Yes, I’m missing Tim Duncan. For the last 19 seasons, The Big Fundamental has been a presence in the league, my heart and the playoffs.

I spent a good portion of 2016 mourning Duncan’s retirement. I really thought I’d gotten out all those sappy feels. But it’s hard not to be nostalgic as the playoffs have rolled around. So I offer you a little reflection on how truly fortunate we were to have Duncan in the league, and playoffs, for as long as we did.

Duncan won five championships in three decades. Let that sink in. There’s a really good chance we’ll never see that again. And Duncan’s Spurs made it to the postseason every year in his career. There’s a good chance we won’t see another player do that either. Over 19 postseasons, he averaged 20 points per game and holds a spot in the top 10 for playoff minutes played, rebounds, points and blocks. He retired with 1,000 career wins, 157 of which came in the postseason. He also earned the honor of Finals MVP three times. And he did all of this, in a way, quietly. Rarely was Duncan the focus of the finals. Rather, his egoless approach to the game often kept media at bay, minimizing costly distractions. I long for a player to admire and appreciate in the way I have Duncan.

For 20 years in the public eye, Duncan was more consistent, more tempered and more professional than any other athlete in the NBA (and arguably in all professional sports). His simplicity provides an example that transcends professional sports. His life and actions can serve as a blueprint for mindfulness, consistency and success — a path many desire, but few will achieve in the way he has.

We are so lucky to have had Duncan in the league, and the playoffs, for the past 20 years. More athletes (and more people) need to be like him. Emulate his calm, his consistency and his leadership. We must not water down his career because it was not as dramatic or boisterous as other superstars. Instead, we must hope that his presence and achievements echo throughout the league and that more athletes choose to follow the path Duncan provided — becoming more powerful role models, better people and maybe even a three-time finals MVP.

Happy belated birthday, Tim. Miss you.

[View on The Step Back]

Jennifer Universe