Tim Duncan is just three wins away from going back to the NBA finals at the age of 37. But despite already having four championship rings and two MVP trophies, Duncan is still somewhat of an anonymous figure in a league that breeds superstars.
Many factors have contributed to Duncan’s under-the-radar success, from his upbringing, to his unusual longevity in college, and the city where he now plays home games.
In addition, Duncan’s success came in the shadows of some of the game’s greats, and his titles came at some unlucky times.
On the next few pages we’ll take a closer look at just how Duncan has been so successful without all the accolades of lesser players.
Duncan grew up in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, so he was not on the radar of American media like many young basketball stars
Duncan didn't even start playing basketball until ninth grade. Prior to that he had dreams of becoming an Olympic swimmer and was a top U.S. junior swimmer in the 400 freestyle.
When Hurricane Hugo destroyed his local pool in 1989, Duncan was forced to practice in the ocean. He later said swimming lost its appeal because there were no competitions at this time.
And by the time he did go pro, the NBA was in a youth movement with high schoolers like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant going straight to the NBA. Duncan was an old man by comparison.
And there was some public backlash against Spurs for being able to draft Duncan just because David Robinson was injured for most of the year before, creating a super team
While most stars gravitate towards big markets, Duncan has played his entire career in just the 36th biggest television market in San Antonio
But Duncan has never sought the bright lights and has made plenty of money playing for the Spurs, earning $204.7 million so far in his career
Duncan didn't get a lot of credit for his first championship since many felt the Spurs only won because Michael Jordan retired
And his second ring only came after the Lakers three-peat and the Kobe Bryant-Shaquille O'Neal tandem was starting to fade
And the Spurs' last two titles came before the NBA's recent renaissance led by young stars such as LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Derrick Rose
Duncan has made as much as $22.2 million in salary in a single season, but has never made much off the court
During the 2011-12 season, Duncan made just $2 million in endorsements. That same year, LeBron James made $40 million in endorsements
He's even so subtle and quiet around creepy fans that it is hard to tell if he is actually giving them the middle finger or adjusting his mirror
But now that the Spurs are in their eighth conference finals, Duncan has become the NBA's no-nonsense, anti-hipster hero and will wear whatever he wants
And if he can raise one more trophy, he may finally get the respect that NBA insiders already give him
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