A finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Tim Duncan made his head coaching debut Tuesday night in Charlotte in place of Gregg Popovich, who missed the game to attend to personal business, the San Antonio Spurs announced.
Duncan, 43, retired in 2016 after playing 19 seasons with the Spurs, where he won five NBA championships, two Kia MVP awards and three Finals MVPs before joining the coaching staff in July of 2019.
After the game, Duncan said his first stint as a head coach went well, but he’s looking forward to Popovich’s return.
“It’s night and day to be in the big boy chair,” said Duncan, who normally serves as an assistant coach. “Truth be told though, I wasn’t in the big boy chair. I had (other assistant coaches) making the calls and I was the one standing there screaming at people.”
When asked if being a head coach is something he wants to pursue down the road, Duncan said, “Nope, Pop is going to be back and I will be happy to hand it right over to him.”
Duncan had plenty of help on the bench in assistants Becky Hammon, Will Hardy and Chip Engelland. Hammon has been on the Spurs’ coaching staff since 2014, and Engelland joined the staff in 2005 while Hardy became an assistant back in July.
Hornets coach James Borrego, who worked as an assistant coach for the Spurs when Duncan was there as a player, said it was “odd” to look down at the other bench and see the five-time NBA champion and 15-time All-Star coaching a team.
“I’m used to see that No. 21 on his jersey and see him out there leading the group. Tonight he had a blazer on,” Borrego joked.
Borrego said he has immense respect for Duncan.
“I wouldn’t be sitting here (as a head coach) if it wasn’t for that guy,” Borrego said.
The Spurs’ all-time leader in points (26,496), rebounds (15,091), blocked shots (3,020) and games played (1,392), Duncan ranks as just the third player in league history to capture 1,000 career regular-season victories, with only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Robert Parish winning more games over their careers.
In December of 2016, Duncan became the eighth Spur in franchise history to have his jersey retired, joining George Gervin (44), David Robinson (50), Sean Elliott (32), James Silas (13), Avery Johnson (6), Bruce Bowen (12) and Johnny Moore (00).
Duncan played all 19 seasons of his NBA career for Popovich. He is surpassed in longevity with one team only by Dirk Nowitzki, who played 21 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, and the late Kobe Bryant,who played 20 seasons with the Lakers.
Duncan retired ranked No. 2 in NBA playoff victories, first in postseason double-doubles and third in rebounds. The 15-year span between Duncan’s first (1999) and last NBA titles (2014) rank as the second-longest span in league history behind Abdul-Jabbar (17 years) among players participating in both NBA Finals series, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Duncan and John Salley are the only players in league history to capture an NBA title in three different decades.
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NBA.com’s Michael C. Wright contributed to this report.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.