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Art Garcia

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Tim Duncan was the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Quiet, consistent, a pro's pro, Duncan reaches for 20K


Posted Jan 20 2010 8:54AM

It might come on a 15-foot bank. Perhaps an offensive rebound, quick slam and slight pull of the rim. Maybe a flick of his wrist, with just enough for the ball to fall effortlessly through the net. Or at the line. OK, scratch that one.

Whichever way Tim Duncan scores his 20,000th career point, expect little fanfare and even less acknowledgement from him. He knows the milestone is coming, one that just 34 players in the 64-year history of the NBA have reached before, and one that Duncan could achieve Wednesday night in front of his hometown fans.

When it happens, he probably will just turn around and head up the court, setting up the defense with the rest of his Spurs teammates. Like he always does. Milestone or not.

"It means I've been playing a long time," Duncan said with a wry smile. "It means I'm old and it means I'm closer to the end than the beginning. It means a lot of things that are negative, more than positive."

Let's stick with the good stuff for now. Duncan's place is secure among the all-time greats. Four championships and two MVPs have reserved a spot in Springfield for him. And while the path to Duncan's basketball immortality isn't defined by mere stats, they illustrate a career's worth of consistency and responsibility.

"The most important thing with him is that is has nothing to do with numbers," said Manu Ginobili, a teammate since 2002. "He's won four championships. He's not one of those players that wants to average 30 a game and that's it. Doing that on winning teams, he deserves even more credit.

"Of course I'm not shocked because of what he means to the NBA and I've seen it for eight years, but once you step away to look at it from a different perspective, it's really impressive."

Duncan has been there nearly every night for San Antonio since debuting with 15 points and 10 rebounds in a Halloween Night win over Denver in 1997. The career averages by the former No. 1 pick from Wake Forest -- 21.4 points, 11. 7 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.3 blocks and 50.9 shooting percentage -- have resulted in unrivaled success in his era. He produces in the truest sense of the word.

Elite Trifecta
Only six players in NBA history players have scored 20,000 points, grabbed 10,000 rebounds and blocked 2,000 shots. Tim Duncan is on the verge of being the seventh.
PLAYER POINTS REBOUNDS BLOCKS
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 38,387 17,440 3,189
Shaquille ONeal 27,998 12,811 2,668
Hakeem Olajuwon* 26,946 13,748 3,830
Patrick Ewing* 25,815 11,607 2,894
Robert Parish* 23,334 14,715 2,361
David Robinson* 20,790 10,497 2,954
Tim Duncan 19,985 10,933 2,189
* Hall of Fame
# blocks became an NBA stat in the 1971-72 season

The Spurs not only own the most regular-season victories of any NBA team since Duncan entered the league, but by winning 70 percent of their games, they have the best winning percentage in the four major sports during that span. The four titles are matched only by the Los Angeles Lakers.

"That's the big key -- winning," Kobe Bryant said. "To figure out how to do that, how to get your teammates to that level. That's the biggest challenge."

Duncan, 33, needs just 15 points to join the 20K Club that upstate rival Dirk Nowitzki reached last week. It should happen Wednesday night against Utah. When it does, Duncan joins six others with at least 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds and 2,000 blocks.

Included on that list are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O'Neal and former San Antonio teammate David Robinson.

So reaching 20,000 points has to signify something to Duncan, right?

"I don't think it means anything to him," said Gregg Popovich, the only pro coach Duncan has ever played for. "All he cares about is winning championships and enjoying his teammates and competing. Those are the three things he cares about, probably, as far as basketball is concerned."

In One Place
Out of the 34 players who have scored 20,000 points , only 10 have scored all of them with a single franchise. Duncan will become the 11th.
PLAYER (TEAM) POINTS
John Havlicek* (Boston) 26,395
Reggie Miller (Indiana) 25,279
Jerry West* (LA Lakers) 25,192
Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers) 24,981
Elgin Baylor* (Minn./L.A. Lakers) 23,149
Larry Bird* (Boston) 21,791
Hal Greer* (Syracuse/Philadelphia) 21,586
Bob Pettit* (Milwaukee/St. Louis) 20,880
David Robinson* (San Antonio) 20,790
Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas) 20,102
Tim Duncan (San Antonio) 19,985
* Hall of Fame Inductee

Duncan's teammates and peers respect his steadiness and reliability. Ginobili wondered if he's the best power forward ever. Noting the accomplishments of Duncan and Nowitzki, Bryant said reaching 20,000 points is significant on several counts. Only 10 players have done it with one team.

"I'm not a big numbers guys, but I think it shows a couple of things," said Bryant, soon to reach 25,000 points and overtake Jerry West as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer. "It shows how fortunate we are. We haven't had many major injuries and have played many, many years.

"And two, it's just the body of work, the consistency to be able to get up every day and work hard and train, so that every year you come back you're not having these dropoffs that you see a lot of players have. You have one hot year and the next year not so much. To be able to do it consistently shows a lot of commitment to the game."

Nowitzki has battled Duncan head-to-head for more than a decade, revolutionizing the power forward position in the process. Nowitzki is honored by the company he keeps in the 20K Club, but his respect for Duncan reminds us why these guys play the game.

"I'd rather have less points and his four rings," Nowitzki said.

The number of banners hanging inside the AT&T Center is the only number of current importance to the Big Fundamental. Celebrating those personal milestones will have to wait.

"It'll mean something after I'm done," Duncan said. "Looking back on it, it'll mean something. Right now, in the midst of things, it's hard to see it as an accomplishment or anything else."

Of course he can't see it. He's already turned around to head back up the court.

Art Garcia has covered the NBA since 1999. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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