Examining NBA impact of international players: Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan didn't start out pursuing basketball in his native of St. Croix, but it didn't take long for him to become an all-time NBA great.

Tim Duncan forged a Hall of Fame career with the San Antonio Spurs.

Six international players were named to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team roster. In Part 2 of our four-part series, we delve into how U.S. Virgin Island’s Tim Duncan impacted the league.

Spurs Legend: Tim Duncan

Tim Duncan was born on the island of St. Croix in 1976. Although considered U.S. territory, Duncan’s life in the Caribbean heavily impacted his basketball journey.

Duncan originally dreamed of becoming an Olympic swimmer, influenced by his sister, Tricia Duncan, who was part of the U.S. swim team in 1988. His vision changed when Hurricane Hugo destroyed many of St. Croix’s swimming pools. Basketball became the alternative, and he would be recruited by and play basketball at Wake Forest University. During his final season, he named the most outstanding collegiate player in the country and won the John R. Wooden Award.

In 1997, the San Antonio Spurs selected him as the No. 1 overall pick. He would make history there for the next 19 years, tying for the third-longest career with one team.

Duncan won Rookie of The Year in a blazing start to his NBA career. In his sophomore season, he led the Spurs to their first NBA championship with a 4-1 Finals series win vs. New York. Duncan picked up his first Finals MVP in that series as he averaged a double-double (27.4 points per game, 14.0 rebounds per game).

The Spurs were able to build a dynasty around Duncan, adding Argentinean legend Manu Ginobili and French gamechanger Tony Parker. The trio showed their power in the Spurs’ return to The Finals in 2003, and Duncan would again be named Finals MVP. The “Big 3”, led by powerhouse coach Gregg Popovich, won two more titles in 2005 and ’07. Duncan would help the Spurs win another ring in 2014 before retiring in 2016. San Antonio won 71% of its games with Duncan in what was the best stretch in U.S. major professional sports history.

“The Big Fundamental” was the honorable nickname chosen, as Duncan became one of the best defensive big men to grace the court. He was a 15-time All-Defensive selection — the most in league history — and his overall determination to win made him nearly unstoppable.

To be exact, Duncan won 1,158 regular season and playoff games in his career, which is the third-most all-time, and he ranks second in all-time playoff wins. His special relationship with Popovich led the Spurs to 1,001 combined wins — most of any player-coach tandem in the NBA.

Take a look back at how Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich developed their close bond throughout Duncan's career.

Duncan’s No. 21 hangs in the San Antonio rafters as of 2016 and Popovich provided a humble statement when Duncan made the Hall of Fame in 2020.

“You don’t see Timmy beating his chest as if he was the first human being to dunk the basketball, as a lot of people do these days. He’s not pointing to the sky. He’s not glamming to the cameras. He just plays, and we’ve seen it for so long it’s become almost mundane. But it’s so special that it has to be remembered.”

In 2017, Duncan would return to St. Croix to help his community recover from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. He also returned in 2019 with the Tim Duncan Foundation to support the “Yes! Ours Kids Can” campaign which looks to implement educational and career resources for low-income families. The league’s community outreach program NBA Cares has also taken up efforts to support hurricane relief with the recognition of USVI Recovery.

Tim Duncan recalls growing up in St. Croix, prior to his college and NBA career.

His dedication to the Spurs organization would not dwindle, as he rejoined the team as an assistant coach for the 2019-20 season and even notched a victory as a stand-in coach in Popovich’s absence. Duncan later stepped away from the coaching role but remains active in the organization’s player development, continuing to inspire young international talents.