Tim Duncan Goes To The Rafters

Fans, teammates, and San Antonians faced one of the greatest challenges the AT&T Center has ever seen on Sunday:

How to thank the man responsible for all of this.

How to let Tim Duncan know that he changed an organization and a city, and helped build the arena where his jersey will hang forever.

After 19 seasons and five championships, the Spurs retired the jersey of the franchise’s greatest player on Sunday.

Duncan has the most all-time All-NBA and All-Defensive Team selections with 15 of each. He set Spurs franchise records for career points (26,496), rebounds (15,091), and blocks (3,020).

But that didn’t come up in the ceremony speeches of the fan tributes. They were there to thank Duncan for being a teammate, a leader, and a role model.

“Thank you, Timmy,” Manu Ginobili said. “Thank you for making me better, and everybody that ever played with you. Thank you for your lessons that you never tried to give. Thank you for your friendship.  Love you.”

And when it was time for Duncan to speak, he was choked up as he thanked coaches, teammates and fans for being part of his journey.

“The love and support has been overwhelming,” said Duncan, who is the eighth Spurs player to have his jersey retired.

Duncan was on the court with his family, his Wake Forest coach Dave Odom, Ginobili and Tony Parker, coach Gregg Popovich, general manager R.C. Buford, and three former Spurs who have also had their jerseys retired, Bruce Bowen, Sean Elliott and David Robinson.

Former teammates in attendance included Malik Rose, Antonio Daniels, Sean Marks and others.

“He’s so unselfish because he makes everybody around him better, and that’s what makes the true definition of a superstar,” Parker said. “Anything that happened, Timmy was there for me.”

Players and coaches all pointed to the relationship between Duncan and Popovich, and the way it has changed basketball. Popovich thanked Odom for sending Duncan to San Antonio from Wake Forest with an incredible set of skills, and Odom thanked Pop in return for the past 19 seasons.

When it was Popovich’s turn to speak, he told stories of his unique relationship with Duncan. How he first visited Duncan in St. Croix after the draft and they swam and talked for a few days. How he’d bring carrot cake to Duncan’s hotel room on road trips.

 “This is the most important comment that I can make about Tim Duncan,” Popovich said, “that I can honestly say to Mr. and Mrs. Duncan, who have passed, that that man right there is exactly the same person now as he was when he walked in the door.”

Duncan responded by paying Popovich an ultimate compliment.

"Thank you Coach Pop for being more than a coach,” he said. “For being like a father to me."

On Sunday, a sellout crowd of 18,615 made the pilgrimage to the AT&T Center to salute a hero.

Maggie Cochrane said she’s been a Spurs fan for life, destined to be one ever since her mother, Carolyn attended Trinity University in San Antonio. The family has since moved to Minnesota but flew in for the retirement ceremony.

“I taught middle school, and to point out Tim Duncan as a man to emulate is wonderful when there aren’t that many positive role models out there,” Carolyn Cochrane said through tears. “I got my Kleenex and I’m ready to go. I’d say thank you for being you and living to your standards, not anyone else’s.”

Cody Hale said he grew up in San Antonio and has watched Duncan for most of his life. He’s 31 now, and said Duncan has been the role model for almost everyone he grew up with.

“This is my childhood hero going up there,” Hale said. “This is a guy responsible for some of the top moments of my life. This is someone who gave me memories of watching games with my dad, my brother, my family and my friends that I’ll have forever.”

While others couldn’t make it to the ceremony, the response from the rest of the NBA has been overwhelming ever since Duncan announced his retirement in July.

“I want to say congratulations on an unbelievable career,” LeBron James said in a taped message. “What you did not only for this league, what you did for so many kids looking up to you as a role model, what you did for me is beyond anything imagined. Your commitment to excellence, your commitment to team, your passion for the game since the first day you stepped on an NBA floor is such a tremendous feat.”

Duncan ended his speech by noting that he won a lot of bets on the night.

“I didn’t wear jeans. I wore a sport coat. I spoke for more than 30 seconds,” he said. “Thank you, San Antonio. Thank you.”

Once again, Tim Duncan exceeded all expectations.