Even though we’re a long way from San Antonio, a lot of us here in Winston-Salem are celebrating the San Antonio Spurs’ NBA championship won last night. If you’re not a basketball fan, one of the key players in the Spurs’ five championships has been Tim Duncan, who is without question one of the greatest players ever to play the game and the only man to have won titles with the same team in three different decades. Some of us here in Winston started watching Tim play when he was a skinny, unknown kid from the Virgin Islands. Duncan played four years for the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. (Duncan is one of the last great players to postpone the money of a pro contract in order to play four years and earn his degree.)
Here’s what you may not know, unless you’re a diehard Wake Forest fan. Duncan wasn’t the big man recruit everyone was excited about. Makhtar N’Diaye was a Sengelese player who came to Wake by way of Oak Hill Academy and was considered a top recruit. But before he played a minute for the Deacs he was declared ineligible due to concerns about the recruiting process. He transferred to Michigan and then to UNC. He gained notoriety for his bad behavior on the court. He signed as a free agent, played about 4 games in the NBA and then spent his career playing in Europe.
There was a lot of gnashing of teeth by Wake fans when Makhtar left. He was the big man we were counting on. We were stuck with this Tim Duncan fellow, whom only one other US college had seriously recruited. It didn’t take too awfully long before we realized that fate may have given us the better part of that deal. Tim went on the become National Player of the Year and help Wake win its first two ACC championships since the early sixties.
Duncan was the first pick in the 1997 NBA draft, won rookie of the year, two time NBA most valuable player, three time NBA finals MVP and fourteen time all-Star. And, as of last night, help lead the Spurs to their fifth NBA title. He makes news off the court by not making news.
When you put the two careers side by side there is really no comparison. While few knew it at the time, Wake got the better end of the deal all the way around, both on and off the court.
One of the things that is tempting for us to do as human beings is to create stories about our lives. Actually, in telling the story of our lives we find and weave the threads of meaning. But too often we create too quickly, creating stories out of incomplete evidence – or no evidence at all. As soon as something happens in our lives we have to make a judgment that it’s the best thing or the worst. We tell ourselves that because things didn’t go as we’d planned that it’s a disaster.
We create stories about what we’re sure other people are thinking when we actually have no idea what they’re thinking of us – or even IF they’re thinking of us. We think it’s a terrible thing that we’ve lost the best recruit from this class when in fact, we’ve opened the door for one of the greatest players ever.
The next time you’re ready to make a quick judgment and write a sad story of your life, remember a swimmer from the Virgin Islands who was Plan B.
His name is Tim Duncan.
Photo: AP Photo/Alan Marler