Duncan, Timothy Theodore

views updated

DUNCAN, Timothy Theodore

(b. 25 April 1976 in St. Croix, Virgin Islands), three-time National Association of Basketball Coaches defensive player of the year, National Basketball Association rookie of the year (1997–1998), and dominating power forward for the San Antonio Spurs.

Duncan, one of three children of William Duncan, a mason, and Ione Duncan, a midwife, became one of the dominating power forwards in the National Basketball Association (NBA). At age thirteen he was a top-ranked swimmer in his age group in the 400-meter freestyle; at the end of the twentieth century, he continued to hold records in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle for the Virgin Islands. Two major events, sad in different ways, followed these achievements within a year: Hurricane Hugo swept through the Caribbean in 1989, destroying the swimming complex where Duncan trained, and his mother died of breast cancer. In a change of focus, the swimmer turned his attention to basketball.

The six footer began playing basketball in the ninth grade at Saint Dunstan's Episcopal High School and soon became one of Saint Croix's top players. By his senior year he was six feet, ten inches tall and was averaging 25 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocked shots per game, but he did not attract the attention of college recruiters. Chris King, an NBA player promoting the league in the Caribbean, was impressed by Duncan's coverage against Alonzo Mourning in exhibition games. He urged Dave Odom, the head coach at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to take a look at Duncan. After entering Wake Forest in the autumn of 1993, the shy, little-known freshman developed his basketball skills quickly to become a power-house on defense, setting the school record for blocked shots. His freshman performance earned him a spot on the college All-Star team in an exhibition game against the Dream Team II, the NBA squad of superstars.

During his sophomore year Duncan helped Wake Forest's Demon Deacons reach the sweet-sixteen round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I postseason tournament. He became one of only two players in his conference to average a double double, meaning his per-game averages of points scored and number of rebounds were both in double digits. The National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) named Duncan as its national defensive player of the year for three consecutive years: 1995, 1996, and 1997. Considered a promising prospect for the NBA, Duncan could have secured a lucrative contract but opted to remain in school. His junior year earned Wake Forest its second Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Championship title, and the team advanced to the elite eight in the NCAA postseason tournament. Named as the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, he was again pursued for the NBA draft, and again Duncan chose to remain in school, keeping a promise to his mother that he would earn a college degree.

As a senior Duncan continued to develop his skills, improving his strength and passing and honing the offensive moves that later became his trademark in the NBA. He led the NCAA Division I in rebounding, with 20.8 points per game. His superiority was so evident that he was named college basketball's player of the year for 1996–1997 by the Associated Press, U.S. Basketball Writers Association, NABC, Sporting News, and Basketball Times, and also won both the James A. Naismith Award and the John R. Wooden Award, which honor the nation's top collegiate basketball player. Duncan's statistics at Wake Forest included being the all-time leading shot blocker in ACC history, with 481 blocked shots. He was only the tenth player in NCAA Division I history to score at least 2,000 points and get at least 1,500 rebounds. This was quite a feat for a young man whose original sport was swimming. Coach Odom said of Duncan, "In thirty-one years of coaching, I've never met a more fierce competitor, a player who gives you more every day than Tim—in every challenge."

On 25 June 1997, after receiving a B.A. degree in psychology, Duncan made his long-awaited entrance into the NBA draft and was selected as the first overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs. Although starting as a power forward, his skills allowed him to excel as a center. Duncan and the Spurs center David Robinson, jointly called the Twin Towers, worked well together by combining their size, speed, and power. Duncan's rookie year was outstanding. He started in all eighty-two games and he was thirteenth in the NBA in scoring, with an average of 21.1 points per game; third in rebounding, with 11.9 rebounds per game; sixth in blocked shots, with 2.51 blocks per game; and fourth in field-goal percentage, with 54.9 percent. He was named the rookie of the month for all six months of the NBA regular season, only the third player to gain that honor, and he was the only rookie selected to participate in the 1998 NBA All-Star Game. Naturally, Duncan was named the NBA rookie of the year. The Spurs coach George Karl stated, "He's a quiet assassin who is skilled in all aspects of the game." During his second year as a professional, Duncan continued to be one of the league's most dominant players. Through the shortened season (because of a lockout of players by NBA team owners during contract disputes), the Spurs tied for the best record in the NBA. Duncan was named to the All-NBA First Team and the NBA All-Defensive First Team.

The hometown hero of the Virgin Islands did not escape the criticism that inevitably comes with being a professional athlete. Some critics said that Duncan was not physical enough in his game—he played with too much finesse. Others said that he seemed emotionless during games—he didn't pump his fists or thump his chest. Still others said that his placid expression, even during dramatic games, indicated that he did not play with intensity and thus did not care about winning. The critics, however, noted the intensity, still without the flashiness, with which Duncan played in the 1999 NBA playoffs against Kevin Garnett of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Shaquille O'Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Rasheed Wallace of the Portland Trailblazers. The Spurs and Duncan then dominated the New York Knicks to capture their first NBA Championship title. Duncan was named the co-Most Valuable Player of the NBA finals and for the second straight season was named to both the All-NBA First Team and the All-Defense Team. During the 2000–2001 season he started in all eighty-two games and, for the third time, led the league in double doubles.

On 12 July 2001 Duncan married longtime girlfriend Amy Sherrill. He holds the annual Tim Duncan Charity Golf Classic to raise money for the Kids Sports Network, a nonprofit association that promotes sports and fitness for kids through coach education, special events, and regular networking with youth sports associations and agencies. He once explained his seeming aloofness by saying, "I've got a million things going on in my head at all times." A movie and video fan and a knife collector, the shy Duncan showed that an athlete does not have to be flamboyant to be successful.

Several full-length children's biographies have been written about Duncan. They are Mark Stewart, Tim Duncan: Tower of Power (1999); Jeremy Byman, Tim Duncan (2000); Kevin Kernan, Tim Duncan: Slam Duncan (2000); Ken Rappoport, Tim Duncan: Star Forward (2000); and Stew Thornley, Super Sports Star Tim Duncan (2001). General biographical sources include Current Biography Yearbook (1999); Geri Koeppel, "Tim Duncan," in News-makers 2000, edited by Aaron Oppliger (2000); and Ed Decker, "Tim Duncan," in Contemporary Black Biography (1999).

Joyce K. Thornton

About this article

Duncan, Timothy Theodore

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article