A little dishing on sports

No Punkin’ of Duncan

As a blogger searching for material, there is something really refreshing about sports columnists who spout mind-numbingly stupid opinions in a futile search to post enough copy on their magazine websites.  Take for example, Dan Shaughnessy’s really, really silly column today for   How silly is it?  Oh, I am so glad you asked.

Shaughnessy wrote the following: “Then again, learning that Duncan is only the fourth player in NBA history to scored [sic] 20,000 points with 10,000 rebounds, 2,000 blocks and 2,500 assists (alongside Kareem, Hakeem and Shaq) makes me take him much more seriously.”

That sounds reasonable, you say.  I suppose.  But later in the column came the following:

“Except for 2001-02 when he scored 25.5 points per game, Duncan has always averaged between 18 and 24 points per game. The Spurs have been good for 53-63 wins in each of his seasons (save for the 1998-99 season that was cut short with the lockout). He’s won four championships, been named MVP of the Finals three times and earned league MVP honors twice. He’s the first player in NBA history to be named All-NBA and All-Defensive teams in each of his first 12 seasons.”

And then there’s this paragraph:

“I’ll admit that the more I scour Duncan’s numbers, the better he looks. He’s a 7-footer who plays great defense, makes the perfect outlet passes and uses the glass like no one else his size. He’s won his whole career, and he’s done it quietly. Too quietly for his own good, maybe. Playing in a small media market has disguised some of his greatness.”

Those are just facts, you say?  How can anyone dispute these points, you ask?  Right? Right?  Maybe I should start from the beginning and tell you that Shaughnessy wrote the above paragraphs in a column arguing that Tim Duncan is not one of the ten greatest players in NBA history.  I know, and I have no idea why Shaughnessy passed up what could have been one of the great legal careers of all-time for a lifetime of sweaty locker rooms and cold coffee in press row.

Is it just me or did Shaughnessy just describe a career so astounding by every metric that every argument against its greatness was eviscerated by his words?

  • Lead a team to championship? Check.  Um, 4 times
  • Statistical dominance? Check
  • Excellent at the intangibles? Check
  • Consistently recognized greatness?  Check
  • Individual accolades?  Check
  • Groundbreaking success? Check

So what is the argument against Duncan being top 10 all-time?  Here’s where it gets tricky.  I mean, I understand the first part where Shaughnessy rattles off 7 names of guys he believes would have to be on that list: Wilt, Kareem, Russell, MJ, Bird, Magic, Shaq.  I might quibble with Shaq over Duncan – compare their careers as contemporaries, paying particular attention to who Shaq played with and who Duncan played with and how they fared head-to-head and you tell me if Shaq is, as Shaughnessy put it “non-negotiable” over Duncan.  But let’s leave those seven for a minute.  Even if you accept that list, it leaves Duncan as number 8, right?

According to Shaughnessy, not exactly.  Why?  Because Oscar, Jerry West and Cousy are “the holy trinity of old guards.”  Whatever that means.

Look, I’m not here to bash those three great guards, all of whom would have to be on any sane person’s short list of the greatest players of all time.  What I’m saying is, I think even knowledgeable sports people have severely underrated Tim Duncan’s NBA career.  There’s no question he belongs in any discussion of the top tier of players ever in the league – and he’s certainly in the top 10.  Shaughnessy spent two paragraphs talking about all the evidence that suggests Duncan belongs in that group and then dismisses it because, well, I’m not sure why.

But here’s what we know about Duncan.  A decade after drafting one of the great players of his time, the San Antonio Spurs had still never come close to winning an NBA championship.  Two years after Duncan arrived, they won one.  Then they won another, and another, and another.  In the shot clock era, here’s the list of players who have been the top guy on 4 or more NBA champions:

Bill Russell

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Michael Jordan

Tim Duncan

In fairness, Magic and Shaq, and maybe Kobe (since he was the 4th quarter guy for the Lakers 3-peat) could make the argument that they were top dog, but take a close look at the list above.  Extraordinary, isn’t it?

In closing, and with apologies to Jake Brigance from A Time to Kill, forget who this post is about, close your eyes and have someone read to you those three paragraphs I cited as written by Shaughnessy.  Ok?  You with me?

Now imagine he played in L.A.


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