We'll remember him in profile: His sloping shoulders, His head bowed down. Tim Duncan was the NBA's version of a Buddhist monk: Quiet, balanced, humble. He's not the superstar we've grown accustomed to seeing, which likes to thump his chest, soak up the playoff podium spotlight and make a point of referencing confidence, his belief that he can beat anyone.
That makes Duncan easy to underestimate. He's never been a self-promoter -- even in retirement, he's declined the opportunity to hold a press conference. Those who know him say he's a fierce competitor, and there are rare occasions when that tenacity comes through, most evidently in the thrill he's displayed after winning each of his five championships.
Despite that, we recognize his greatness. Many consider him the greatest power forward of his time. His five championships stretch from 1999 to 2014, the second-largest such spread in NBA history. In 19 seasons, he never missed the playoffs.
— ThePostGame.com (@ThePostGame) July 11, 2016
And yet, as his NBA career comes to a close, it still seems like we've failed to appreciate the player Duncan was, and his pedigree as a winner. The championships and playoff berths are one thing. Then there's the regular-season dominance: His 1,001 regular-season wins rank third all-time. Every single one was earned with the same coach, Gregg Popovich, making them the winningest pairing in NBA history.
As an individual, Duncan's numbers are clearly Hall of Fame-worthy: He retires ranked 14th all-time in points scored, fifth in rebounds and sixth in blocks. The 15-time All-NBA player also won the 1998 Rookie of the Year award, two MVP awards, and two NBA Finals MVPs. Even at 40, he managed to lead the league in defensive rebounds per minute, as noted the team's official press release announcing his retirement.
Combine the career +/- of Ray Allen (+3,551), Dwyane Wade (+2,941), and KD (+1,964), it would still fall short of Duncan's ... by about 500.
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) July 11, 2016
Despite his great personal achievements, his impact on the Spurs' franchise is even more rare. While reaching 19 consecutive playoff appearances, and playing with 140 different teammates during his career, Duncan also guided the franchise to a winning percentage of at least .600 in every single season, something no NBA team has ever done.
Across Tim Duncan Era, the Spurs had the NBA's best Defensive Rating (100.5). By a mile... pic.twitter.com/y9C7mgwuXh
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) July 11, 2016
The closest thing to Tim Duncan is Bill Russell, the anchor for Boston's streak of eight NBA titles. No one, not even Duncan, has matched that trophy haul since, or even sniffed coming close to its streak of championships. Like Russell, Duncan has forever altered the course of an NBA franchise. But the way he's done it may be even more impactful than what Russell accomplished for the Celtics.
Duncan's on-court production was only part of his value to San Antonio. Harder to quantify is the way he became the foundation for the team's unique culture, something every NBA team has been desperate to emulate since. Every player to join the franchise understands Duncan's role as the leader.
His unselfish, lead-by-example approach to winning became a guiding light for the Spurs. By the time their Big 3 of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were assembled, the Spurs had mastered an unselfish approach to the game in which teammates held one another accountable, but no one pointed fingers.
Chemistry of that kind is rare in the NBA, and it rarely lasts long. But in San Antonio, thanks to Duncan, it's become the identity of the organization. Other players molded themselves to fit that blueprint, which has graced the franchise with historic consistency.
And in that way, Duncan once again distinguishes himself from the rest of the NBA's stars of the past. While the legacies of most players are solidified at their retirement, Duncan's is yet to be finalized. Because even as he leaves the Spurs organization, his imprint on the current team is indelible.
You could assemble the roster elsewhere, but you couldn't have the infrastructure and culture that the Spurs enjoy without Duncan giving it shape.
Whatever successes come to the Spurs next season, and even beyond, can be attributed in some measure to Tim Duncan. During a 19-year career, he built something that could live on without him. We won't see him take the court anymore, but his body of work will be on display.