Tim Duncan Goes Hollywood

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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Danielle Robinson
Photo courtesy of Wake Forest

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I wish the battery in my camera phone had some life. Because if it wasn’t all but dead I could snap some photos and reveal a rarely seen side of Tim Duncan during a postgame interview: animated, laughing, engaging in a hilarious back-and-forth.

We are standing in a hallway outside the Spurs locker room, away from the crush of media chronicling another Spurs triumph, and there’s not a hint of calm or deadpan cool in that famously expressionless face.

I suppose Duncan is “up” because I’m not here to talk basketball per se, and because his best friend -- actor Marc Blucas of USA’s “Necessary Roughness” -- is giving him good material.

Blucas left the Atlanta set of his TV show Tuesday morning and flew into San Antonio for Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals wearing a bulky black brace on his left leg. Duncan begins to giggle -- “He’s trying to look like me,” No. 21 says -- because the brace is no Hollywood prop.

While shooting a recent episode that called for him to dunk a basketball, Blucas showed that, at 40-years-old and 6-foot-1, he’s got no hops and tore a knee tendon. Duncan had fun with that, and next thing you know, two Wake Forest teammates from the mid-90s are cutting up like kids in college.

Blucas says Duncan can’t jump over a phone book -- “Not a thick one with Yellow Pages, a thin one” -- and Duncan says “yes, that’s true,” but Blucas can’t jump at all, and it’s no wonder he got hurt.

Did Blucas ever dunk at Wake Forest, I ask. Duncan says “once.” I ask, “when,” and he and Blucas answer in near comedic unison: “Rhode Island!” Must have been some throw-down.

Memories fly. Playful insults, too. They recall a game in which Blucas took an elbow to the face and suffered a concussion. Dazed, Blucas got up, his vision blurring, and approached coach David Odom. Duncan tells the story like a wide-eyed kid describing a teacher slipping on a banana peel, hands moving all over the place: “He says, ‘Coach, don’t take me out but I can’t see.’ Then he runs right back into the game.”

They burst into laughter.

Danielle Robinson
Season two of Necessary Roughness premieres June 6 at 9 pm
central on USA Network

I only have a minute or two to interview Duncan, and I’m working an angle about a culture and business he’s run from his entire career. Hollywood. Blucas plays an athletic trainer in a drama about a divorcee who works as a therapist for a pro football team. I’ve heard Blucas wants Duncan to make a guest appearance on the show.

Will Duncan do the gig?

Duncan and Blucas met in the fall of 1994, two guys thrown together by an understood pecking order. Star players and captains were assigned to mentor hot shot recruits. Blucas, a nondescript senior, was handed a young project, a freshman from the Virgin Islands whom coaches expected to redshirt.

As Blucas puts it: “We were both outsiders in a way. I was the small town, token white kid, and Tim was this quiet 17-year-old from St. Croix. It sounds ridiculous to even say this out loud -- but I tried to take him under my wing. My Hollywood friends call ‘BS’ on that one. ‘Yeah right, Blucas. You took the greatest power forward in the history of basketball under your wing. Sure.’ What I don’t tell them is how over the years I’ve learned more from Tim than he has from me.’”

The players organized a pickup game the first week of school. Just veterans and freshmen. No coaches allowed. When it was over, after Duncan grabbed every rebound and blocked every shot in the lane, Blucas grabbed a captain and said they’d better see the coaches. “We got to tell them,” Blucas said, “not to redshirt this kid.”

Odom played Duncan in the season-opener at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. The trip marked the first time Duncan had seen snow. It also marked an odd statistical debut. “He had like 18 rebounds,” Blucas says, “and zero points. And the game went into triple overtime.”

By mid-season, Blucas says he knew the project would become an NBA star. Blucas marveled at Duncan’s patience, footwork and ability to understand spacing and timing. “You saw him being told how to do it once and then it was part of his game next week,” Blucas says. “He’d see certain players from different teams doing moves and then he’s suddenly ripping them off and executing them better.”

Blucas graduated and played one year of pro ball in Europe with the Manchester Giants. He turned to acting and used basketball to open doors, playing a benched Knick in the 1996 feature “Eddie,” then serving as a technical coordinator on the hoop biopic, “Never Give Up: The Jimmy V Story.” In 1998, he landed a role in “Pleasantville,” starring Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, and helped producers choreograph basketball scenes.

The friends remained in touch, Blucas making a slow climb in Hollywood, Duncan exploding in the NBA. Along the way, Blucas became a self-proclaimed Spurs groupie, flying in to watch Duncan lead the silver and black to one championship after another. Eventually, Blucas began landing bigger roles -- first as a love interest in “Buffy The Vampire Slayer,” then in films such as “Summer Catch,” “First Daughter” and “Knight and Day,” opposite Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Before long, Duncan began visiting Blucas on sets and attending movie premieres, an athlete who avoids the limelight embracing an actor who feeds off it. Then Blucas landed a co-starring role on “Necessary Roughness” and got an idea.

Why not get Duncan to make a guest appearance on the show? And maybe Blucas could even try to direct the episode. “Then I’d get to tell him what to do all day,” Blucas jokes.

I put the question to Duncan and he does not pause. Yes, he says, he’d do the show for his buddy. No script has been written, no details worked out. But filming has begun for the second season and the bright lights of a TV set do not seem to scare Duncan. He’s showing a post-game face fans rarely see -- wonderfully and wildly playful -- and it’s not just because the Spurs beat Oklahoma City to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals.

An old college friend has asked a favor. And besides, it’s hard to turn down a guy wearing a Duncan-like brace on a bum leg.