American basketball player
Combining skills as a passer, rebounder, shooter, scorer, dribbler, and defender, Tim Duncan is one of the best all-round players in the NBA. Winner of the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Most Valuable Player honors in 2002, Duncan is no stranger to awards; his resume has a long list of well-earned basketball achievements. Yet despite all the accolades continually heaped upon him, Duncan remains the quiet, intense young man who grew up in the Virgin Islands and dreamed of becoming an Olympic swimmer.
Life on the Island
Timothy Theodore Duncan was born on April 25, 1976, on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, an 82-squaremile island in the eastern Caribbean Sea. He was the third of four children born to William and Ione Duncan. His father, a mason, worked a variety of jobs, and his mother was a midwife. Both Duncan and his sister Tricia were talented swimmers. Tricia represented the Virgin Islands in the 100- and 200-meter backstroke in the 1988 Olympics, and Duncan holds the Virgin Islands record in the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events and was a nationally ranked swimmer in the United States in the 400-meter freestyle by the age of thirteen.
Duncan's mother encouraged and supported her children. She attended all Duncan's swim meets, usually yelling loud enough for Duncan to hear her above the crowd. His mother instilled a strong work ethic in her children, and Duncan still repeats her motto to himself: "Good, better, best. Never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best." Duncan expected to pursue his swimming career to the next Olympics, but Hurricane Hugo hit St. Croix in 1989, destroying the only Olympic-sized pool on the island. With no place to train, Duncan tried swimming in the ocean, but was not thrilled with sharing the water with the sharks that inhabited the waters around St. Croix. If the hurricane took away Duncan's place to swim,
his mother's death from breast cancer just one day before his fourteenth birthday took away Duncan's desire to swim. Duncan's older sister, Cheryl, who had been studying nursing in the United States, returned to the island with her husband to help care for the devastated family.
Cheryl's husband, Ricky Lowry, who had played basketball at Capital University, a small college in Ohio, encouraged Duncan to pursue basketball. In 1988 Cheryl had shipped a pole and basketball backboard from Ohio to her younger brother as a Christmas present. Planted deep in the ground by his father, it was one of the few things left standing after Hugo passed through. In the days that followed his mother's death, Duncan's brother-in-law encouraged him to play hoops. Duncan complied, and later told Sports Illustrated, "I remember thinking that after basketball season ended, I'd go back to swimming, but then basketball season never ended." Not knowing that Duncan would grow ten inches in the next few years, Lowry taught his then-six-foot pupil the perimeter game, lessons that provided Duncan with ball-handling skills and a court awareness that set him apart from other big men in the game.
By the time he was a senior, Duncan was averaging twenty-five points, twelve rebounds, and five blocked shots per game at St. Dunstan's Episcopal High School. Despite glowing write-ups in the local St. Croix sports pages, Duncan received relatively little interest from colleges. When a group of NBA rookies toured the Virgin Islands, Chris King, who played college ball at Wake Forest University, was impressed by Duncan's performance against Alonzo Mourning. King called his old coach, Dave Odom, who made the trip to St. Croix to see Duncan play. During the visit, reticent and shy, Duncan watched television as Odom spoke until the coach finally asked if he might turn it off so he could have Duncan's full attention. To Odom's astonishment, Duncan repeated back the entire discussion, making the coach quickly realized that Duncan's distracted look did not translate into distracted attention.
Goes to School, Takes Opponents to School
Arriving as a seventeen-year-old freshman at Wake Forest in 1993, Duncan was expected to spend most of his time on the bench his first season, but when the team's starting center was declared inelligible, Duncan was called upon to contribute right away. His first college game was played against the University of Alaska in Anchorage; it was the first time Duncan had ever seen snow. Although he didn't score during his first outing, it didn't take long for Duncan to establish himself on the defensive end. As a freshman, he averaged 9.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 3.8 blocks per game and set a new Demon Deacon record for total single-season blocked shots.
During his sophomore year Duncan averaged 16.8 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He was named the National Defensive Player of the Year, First Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and Third Team All-American. Increasing his offensive production in his junior year Duncan continued to earn honors, including consecutive years as Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-ACC. Also as a junior he was named First Team All-American and the ACC Player of the Year. During his final year of college ball, Duncan led the nation in rebounds per game (14.7) and upped his scoring average to 20.8 points per game. Along with once again being named Defensive Player of the Year (for an unmatched third straight year), ACC Player of the Year, and First Team All American, Duncan was also selected as the National Player of the Year.
|1976||Born April 25 on St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands|
|1989||Hurricane Hugo hits St. Croix|
|1990||Duncan's mother loses her fight with breast cancer|
|1993-97||Star player for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons|
|1997||Graduates with a degree in psychology; drafted by the San Antonio Spurs|
|1999||Wins National Basketball Association (NBA) championship with the Spurs|
|2000||Re-signs with Spurs|
|2002||Named NBA Player of the Year|
Duncan's talent was obvious to everyone, but for a long while his personality remained a mystery to many, including his teammates. His subdued nature, which bordered on aloofness, could be misconstrued as lack of intensity. But soon both his fans and foes realized that Duncan was extremely dedicated, focused, and enjoying himself, even if he didn't always look the part. Although he took winning and losing seriously, he refused to be goaded into confrontations on the court or in the media. He took care of business and proved himself with his play.
Although he would have likely been the number one pick in the 1995 NBA draft, to the delight of Demon Deacon fans, nineteen-year-old Duncan decided to pass up the possibility of a $3 million a year NBA contract to remain in college for his junior and senior years. Hopeful of their chances in the NCAA tournament, the Demon Deacons made it to the East Regional Finals in 1996 and suffered a disappointing second-round loss in 1997. Nonetheless, Duncan had established himself as one of the best to ever play four years of college ball. According Sports Illustrated, in 1997 Wofford coach Richard Johnson, whose well-overmatched team would face Duncan and the Demon Deacons the following day, told his players: "Let me tell you guys about who you're playing tomorrow. Someday your six-year-old kid will ask you for a Tim Duncan jersey for Christmas. This is your chance to play a future NBA Hall of Famer, your turn to face the greatest player any of you will ever meet."
Spurs, Title, and MVP
As expected Duncan was selected as the first overall pick of the 1997 draft by the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs, who had gone 20-62 the previous year, were a deceptively good team. Their pathetic showing in the 1996-97 season was due primarily to the absence of star David Robinson , who sat out all but six games due to injury. But Robinson was once again healthy for the 1997-98 season, and Spurs Coach Greg Popovich considered Duncan as icing on the cake. If there was any doubt that Duncan was tough enough to compete at the next level, he spent his rookie year proving just how well he could play. He averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, and .549 field goal percentage, leading all NBA rookies in all categories and finishing third in the nation in rebounding. Named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1998, Duncan was also selected to the First Team All-NBA and was the only rookie to play in the 1998 All Star Game.
Duncan helped the Spurs rebound from a twenty-win year to post a record turnaround of fifty-six wins for the 1997-98 season. Injury struck Duncan in the playoffs, and despite hopes of an NBA title, the Spurs fell to the Utah Jazz in the second round. The following season was shortened to fifty games because of a player lockout, but when play resumed in January of 1999, Duncan and the Spurs were ready. After sweeping Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers in four games, the Spurs beat the New York Knicks in five games to win the NBA title. Duncan, who was named the Most Valuable Player of the finals, averaged 27.4 points, 14.0 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game.
After finishing the 1999-2000 season averaging 23.2 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game, Duncan watched his team lose in the first round of the playoffs as he sat on the bench, sidelined by injury. He then became a free agent and the Spurs scrambled to convince their young star to stay in San Antonio. Although the Orlando Magic made a strong bid, ultimately Duncan decided with remain with the Spurs.
The 2001-02 season proved to be the best of Duncan's career. After leading the Spurs to fifty-eight wins, and averaging 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game, Duncan was named the 2002 NBA Most Valuable Player. With the Spurs beginning to rebuild their aging team, and anticipating the retirement of "The Admiral" David Robinson after the 2002-03 season, Duncan has found himself in a new leadership role on the team. As a result, he has worked to increase his emotional demonstrations on the court to help inspire his teammates. Spurs forward Malik Rose told Basketball Digest, "He's always trying to get us pumped up. And we get real inspired by it because we know how tough it is for him. He's such a quiet kid." Quiet or not, Duncan continues to make a loud statement as one of the finest players in the NBA.
|SA: San Antonio Spurs.|
Address: San Antonio Spurs, 600 E. Market Street, San Antonio, Texas 78205. Phone: (210) 554-7773.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1994||Named to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) All-Rookie Team|
|1995-96||National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) National Defensive Player of the Year|
|1995-97||First Team All-ACC|
|1996-97||NCAA First Team All American|
|1997||NCAA National Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year; selected first overall in the 1997 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft by the San Antonio Spurs|
|1998||Rookie of the Year and NBA All Star|
|1998-2002||First Team All NBA|
|1999||NBA championship as member of the San Antonio Spurs; selected Most Valuable Player of the NBA finals|
|2002||Named NBA's Most Valuable Player and received the IBM Award|
Related Biography: Coach Greg Popovich
Greg Popovich, known as "Pop," became the coach of the San Antonio Spurs during the 1997-98 season. During his time in San Antonio, Pop has won more than any coach in the franchise's history. His career winning percentage of .631 puts him sixth all-time among NBA coaches, and his playoff record of 31-22 ranks third among all active coaches. A great part of Popovich's success is due to his management of the Spurs twin towers, David Robinson and Tim Duncan. He is the only coach in the NBA that Duncan has ever played for. The fact the Duncan re-signed with the Spurs in 2000 and will likely re-sign again in 2003 is a tribute to his excellent skills both on and off the court.
Popovich played basketball for four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy. After graduating in 1970 he fulfilled a five-year service commitment in the Air Force, during which time he played for the U.S. Armed Forces Team. He returned to the Air Force Academy as an assistant coach. In 1979 he became the head coach at Pomona-Pitzer Colleges in Claremont, California. In 1988 he moved to the NBA as a Spurs assistant coach under Larry Brown. In the summer of 1992 he became an assistant coach for the Golden State Warriors under Don Nelson. Popovich returned to San Antonio in 1994 when he was named the Spurs general manager.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 20. Detroit: Gale Group, 1998.
Newsmakers 2000, Issue 1. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000.
Sports Stars. Series 5. Detroit: U•X•L, 1999.
Who's Who Among African Americans, 14th ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.
Crothers, Tim. "Demon Deacon." Sports Illustrated (February 17, 1997): 28.
Crothers, Tim. "Out of Nowhere: Tim Duncan, an Unassuming Basketball Prodigy from, of All Places, St. Croix, Has Taken the NBA by Storm." Sports Illustrated (July 7, 1999): 77.
Crothers, Tim. "Slam Duncan." Sports Illustrated (November 27, 1995): 78.
Howerton, Darryl. "Tim Duncan." Sport (January 2000): 46.
Kertes, Tom. "He's Got the Game, and 'The Stuff.'" Basketball Digest (Summer 2002): 26.
Smith, Sam. "Star Speaking Up: Quiet Duncan Making Loud MVP Statement." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (March 3, 2002).
Soonachan, Irwin. "Duncan Signs." Basketball Digest (November 2000): 50.
Steinmetz, Matt. "Kidd Deserved the MVP Award, But so did Duncan." Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service (May 12, 2002).
"Tim Duncan." National Basketball Association. http://www.nba.com/ (December 11, 2002)
"Tim Duncan." Sports Stats.com. http://www.sportsstats.com (December 10, 2002.
Sketch by Kari Bethel
Duncan, Tim 1976–
Tim Duncan 1976–
Professional basketball player
Despite getting a relatively late start in his sport, Tim Duncan quickly became one of the major stars of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in his rookie season with the San Antonio Spurs in 1997. His presence on the team was a key factor in the incredible turnaround for the Spurs, who improved from a mere 20 victories in 1996–97 to 56 victories in 1997–98.
Duncan’s impressive numbers in various statistical categories have resulted from his continual dedication to improving himself in all aspects of his game. At the same time, his lack of flashiness on the court has often caused opponents to underestimate his prowess. As Darryl Howerton wrote in Sport magazine, “He takes a mental approach to basketball, always keen to learn any small point that will improve his game. He fools rivals who think he is not intense enough.” “Most fans have no idea how dominating he is in every facet of the game, simply because he doesn’t scream with every block, trash-talk with every point, or throw elbows with every rebound,” added Ed Gregory, the director of player personnel for the Golden State Warriors, in the same article.
As a child growing up in the American Virgin Islands, Duncan and his two sisters were highly rated swimmers who were urged on by their mother, lone Duncan. By age thirteen he was ranked among the top competitors in the United States in the 400-meter freestyle, and holds Virgin Islands records in the 50-meter and 100-meter freestyle events. When his mother died of breast cancer in 1990, Duncan’s interest in swimming waned quickly and he never swam competitively again. “Timmy was even better than me,” claimed his sister Tricia, who competed in the Olympic Games for the U.S. team, in Sports Illustrated. “There is no doubt in my mind that he would have gone to the 1992 Olympics and held his own against the world.”
No longer interested in swimming, Duncan began focusing his attention on the basketball backboard and pole outside his front door that had been a gift from his sister Cheryl, who lived in Ohio at the time. Soon after lone Duncan’s death, Cheryl moved back to St. Croix with her husband, Ricky Lowery. Lowery, who had played college basketball in the United States, began teaching Duncan basketball fundamentals while playing one-on-one games with him. Before this time, Duncan had had little opportunity to develop his basketball skills in
Born Timothy Theodore Duncan, in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, April 25, 1976; one of three children; son of William (a mason) and lone Duncan (a midwife; died 1990). Education: St. Dunstan’s Episcopal High School, Virgin Islands; Wake Forest University, 1993–97.
Career: Highly ranked swimmer as child; set Virgin Islands swimming records in 50-meter and 100-meter freestyles; learned to play basketball as a young teenager; established school record for blocked shots as a freshman at Wake Forest University, 1994; set third-best all-time collegiate record for blocked shots (3.98 per game), 1993–97; was number-one National Basketball Association (NBA) draft pick, 1997; signed three-year contract with San Antonio Spurs, 1997; led NBA with 57 double-doubles and became 19th rookie to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, 1997–98; led all rookies in scoring, rebounds, shot blocking, and field goal percentage, 1997–98; was only rookie to play in NBA All-Star Game, 1998.
Awards and honors: National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Defensive Player of the Year, 1994–95, 1995–96, 1996–97; Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Player of the Year, 1995–96; John R. Wooden and James A. Naismith Awards, Consensus Best Player in College Basketball, 1997; Schick Rookie of the Year, NBA, 1997–98; Named NBA Rookie of the Month in each month of his rookie season, 1997–98.
Addresses: Professional —c/o San Antonio Spurs, 100 Montana Street, San Antonio, TX 78203.
competitive situations. As Tim Crothers noted in Sports Illustrated, “Tim learned slowly, his development hampered by the fact that there were only four indoor courts on the entire island, and usually those had volleyball nets strung across them.”
Following a growth spurt of eight inches during his high school years, Duncan became a dominant post player and one of the tallest men in St. Croix. Despite receiving rave reviews from the St. Croix Avis newspaper for his play with the St. Dunstan Episcopal High School team, few college scouts from the mainland took notice of him. Representatives from Wake Forest University, Providence College, University of Hartford, and Delaware State University eventually made the trip to St. Croix to see him play. Coach Doug Odom of Wake Forest took a particular interest after Chris King, one of his former players, played with a group of NBA rookies in St. Croix and reported that Duncan did a solid job guarding NBA player Alonzo Mourning. After witnessing Duncan’s impressive play during a pickup game in the Virgin Islands, Odom convinced him to attend Wake Forest.
Duncan was not expected to see much action during his freshman year at Wake Forest. In his first college game against the University of Alaska at Anchorage, he scored no points and took no shots. However, after this slow start, he became a powerhouse on defense and by the end of the season had set the school record for blocked shots. Duncan’s offensive skills were more in evidence during his sophomore year, when he became only one of two players in his conference to average a “double double,” or per-game averages in points (16.8) and rebounds (12.5) that were in double figures.
Fueled by Duncan’s dominant presence on the court, Wake Forest became a perennial contender in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. The school made the second round of the tournament during Duncan’s freshman season, the final sixteen in his sophomore season, the Midwest Regional final when he was a junior, and the second round during his senior year. Duncan finished his exemplary career at Wake Forest with a phenomenal senior season, scoring 20.8 points per game, averaging 3.3 blocks per game, and leading the nation with 14.7 rebounds per game.
While many college players during the 1990s left school before graduation to pursue the big money offered by professional teams, Duncan bucked the trend. He twice turned down opportunities to enter the professional draft early, when he would have been the number one pick. Instead, he completed his collegiate career having led Wake Forest to a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference championships, and was named Conference Player of the Year in his senior year. His college average of 3.98 blocks per game was the third best in NCAA history. Coach Odom summed up Duncan’s performance in Sport, saying, “In my 31 years of coaching, I’ve never met a more fierce competitor, a player who gives you more every day than Tim—in every challenge, whether it be practice, game preparation through film and scouting reports, or the game itself.”
In the 1997 NBA draft, Duncan was selected by the San Antonio Spurs. He soon signed a three-year contract with the Spurs that was worth over $10 million dollars. Shortly after the 1997–98 season began, Duncan began living up to the hype that had accompanied his arrival in San Antonio. He worked extremely well with the Spurs star center, David Robinson, and developed a reputation as an unselfish team player. “Although he makes more than his share of spectacular plays, he usually appears content to focus quietly on the small things that win games—setting picks, rebounding, playing defense, and feeding Robinson inside,” said Frank Clancy in the Sporting News.
Duncan showed incredible versatility and poise during his rookie season. His wide range of skills allowed him to excel at both forward and center, and he quickly became the most dominant rookie in the league. Duncan received Rookie of the Month honors from the Sporting News during every month of the 1997–98 season and he led the NBA with 57 double doubles. “He is the best rookie I’ve seen recently,” commented Seattle Supersonics Coach George Karl in the Sporting News. “He’s a quiet assassin who is skilled in all aspects of the game.”
Duncan’s fantastic rookie season was one of the key factors in the emergence of the Spurs as a playoff contender during the 1997–98 season. He averaged 21.1 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 2.51 blocked shots per game and his .549 shooting percentage was the fourth best in the NBA. He also led all rookies in scoring, rebounds, shot blocking, and field goal percentage, and was the top scorer for the Spurs in 34 games. He was also the only rookie to play in the 1998 NBA All-Star Game. Duncan’s season ended on a sour note, however, after he received an injury during the playoffs. The injury hampered Duncan’s effectiveness and the Spurs lost their playoff series to the Utah Jazz.
In April of 1998, Duncan was presented with the Schick Rookie of the Year Award. He was a near-unanimous choice, receiving 113 of the 116 votes cast. According to an article in USA Today, some sportswriters felt that Duncan also deserved consideration for NBA Most Valuable Player honors.
Jet, August 11, 1997, p. 51.
Los Angeles Times, June 25, 1997, p. C1.
Sport, July 1997, p. 34.
Sporting News, November 25, 1996, p. 48; December 9, 1996, p. 49; December 15, 1997, p. 52; May 18, 1998, p. 13.
Sports Illustrated, November 27, 1995, p. 78.
USA Today, October 16, 1997, p. C1; May 13, 1998, p. C5; July 17, 1998, p. C7.
Washington Post, January 13, 1996, p. F1.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from the National Basketball Association and San Antonio Spurs Web sites on the Internet.