If you were living on planet earth this week, you might have seen that basketball legend Tim Duncan called it a career after 19 brilliant years with the San Antonio Spurs. Duncan is widely considered by many, myself included, the greatest Power Forward to have ever laced them up and one of the greatest players in NBA history. Mr. Fundamental is what he was known as and that nickname fit him perfectly. From his Signature Bank-shot to his ability to maintain a low profile while being arguably one of the most dominant players in the game, Tim Duncan did everything the way it was supposed to be done. Also, Duncan may have been the last unmarketable superstar the world will ever see. Think about it, Duncan won five titles in San Antonio and it almost feels swept under the rug, like it almost didn’t happen. With this digital world we live in today, we will never get another franchise changing guy like Duncan ever again. Could you imagine him on Twitter? Wait, does he have a Twitter? I should have probably looked that up before I started this but I have a golden rule when I write. That rule is to never write about something you have to research, the fact that you are researching tells you that you have no idea what you’re talking about and unless you are willing to speak freely on a subject and be confident about what you say, don’t write it with your pen. If there is one thing I know, it’s Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs vs Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.
I grew up in watching these teams go at it year after year during the regular season and even more during the playoffs during classic battles between the two Western Conference powerhouses. Since 1999 both squads have faced each other a total of 7 times in the playoffs. Combing for 10 NBA championships in total, including a stretch from 99-03 where the Larry O’Brien trophy ended up in Los Angeles or San Antonio. There were several memorable moments from Derek Fisher’s shot with .04 seconds to go, to the shot Tim Duncan hit the play before that (that may have been one of the most clutch moments in his career had it not been for Fisher’s shot), to Manu Ginobili flopping around like a fish Pokémon everybody is chasing around in Pokémon Go right now. My point is that, as much as I spent cheering on the Lakers during my childhood, I spent the same amount of time rooting against the Spurs.
You see, I grew up HATING Tim Duncan. He was so damn good, like, how did this dude who looked like he couldn’t walk without tripping over himself be the most fundamentally sound player on the floor, night in and night out. How was that possible?
I really didn’t like him because he knocked out the Lakers in 1999, 2003 and 2012. The images of Tim Duncan marching past the purple and gold armor really didn’t sit well with me, every time Los Angeles played San Antonio, I wanted L.A. to blow them out by fifty. Keep in mind that I’m from Austin, maybe an hour away from where the Spurs call home. With that being said a lot of my family and friends are huge Spurs fans, I tell them we all make mistakes and that god is working on all of us. You could only imagine the words we yelled at each other during those games, fighting words if we’re being honest.
With the trash talk you obviously know that only entices a few not so friendly debates, debates like who will go down in history as the better player overall, AND, who had the better overall career, Timmy or The Mamba. As I got older I began to respect Duncan and everything he did for the game of basketball. It also made me respect the Spurs organization because of how good they were, except Manu Ginobili, I don’t respect a man who throws himself on the floor like a baby throwing a tantrum. But, this is isn’t about him, it’s about the Big Fundamental and the Black Mamba.
Where do you even begin with this comparison between these All-Time Greats? I thought about this long and hard before I came up with the formula on which I was going to compare the two. It came down to a few factors and deciding those was harder than writing out this entire piece.
Which of the two produced more with what they were given to work with during their careers? Let’s start with Kobe.
Of course he came into the league into the ideal situation joining forces with Shaquille O’Neal and the up and coming Lakers. We all know about the three peat that him and Shaq, arguably the most dominant big man ever, went on to have. Throw in the 2004 finals when Shaq, Karl Malone, Gary Payton, and Kobe Bryant went on to get manhandled by the Detroit Pistons and you have to admit that Kobe was on some pretty nice squads early on in his day. Teams with the likes of Robert Horry, Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Brian Shaw, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox to name a few. And what happened when he had a good team around him? He came home with a trophy most of the time, BUT, the same can be said about Mr. Duncan.
Tim Duncan joined Gregg Popovich in 1997, the year after Kobe came into the league and never wore another uniform in his life. Sort of like Kobe, you see why this was so such a hard decision to come to? Both rocked the same colors their whole careers, both were absolute warriors that seemed to bring the fire out of their teammates and both of them stayed effective even into the last dwindling years of their Hall of Fame careers.
Timmy came into the league into an ideal situation, too, joining forces with The Admiral, David Robinson and Gregg Popovich. Could you imagine Kobe staying with the same coach his entire career? Could you imagine Kobe having the stability that Duncan had during his time in San Antonio?
Now before you Spurs haters start mentioning me on Twitter, that is in no way a knock on Duncan or the Spurs. Pop and the Spurs front office did their job in surrounding Duncan with talent, and keeping it there for the duration of his career.
For example, Duncan had David Robinson until 2003. In 2001 the Spurs drafted Tony Parker, another Hall of Famer. In 2002 the Spurs drafted Manu Ginobili, another Hall of Famer. Since then Duncan has had the same core around him including Coach Pop. Basically for 15 of his 19 years, he’s had the same guys in his corner. Not to mention teammates like Bruce Bowen, Stephen Jackson, Steve Kerr, Sean Avery, Steve Smith, Danny Ferry, Speedy Claxton, Robert Horry, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Malik Rose, Nazr Mohammed, Michael Finely, Richard Jefferson, DO I REALLY NEED TO KEEP GOING?
Kobe on the other hand had did have guys like Shaq, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Derek Fisher, Eddie Jones and Nick Van Exel. I’m not saying he didn’t have any help, let’s be real, him and Shaq might have been the most explosive duo of all time. BUT Kobe did have guys like Smush Parker (Kobe was once quoted as saying L.A. was too cheap to sign a Point Guard so they had to sign a bum), Chris Mihm, Brian Cook, Devean George, Sun Yue (exactly, who the hell is that), Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf, Josh Powell, D.J. Mbenga, Javaris Critterton, Slava Medvedenko, and last but not least Kwame Brown. Keep in mind, most of them were his teammates during his prime years in L.A. I mean, what else do I have to really say?
I’m not going to sit here and debate numbers or list them out, we all have google and know these guys’ numbers. I’ll end it by saying this, both guys produced five titles and are considered Top 10 or Top 5 players of all time (if they don’t make it in at least your Top 10 I don’t trust you). No knock to the Spurs and Duncan, Timmy produced with what was around him but what was around him was 10 times better than Kobe had for the majority of his career. If we flip the script and give Kobe the consistency and backbone that Duncan had around him, this wouldn’t even be a conversation. Kobe by a small margin.