Of all the incredible things Tim Duncan did throughout his 19-year NBA career (and believe me, there were plenty) maybe the most incredible of all happened before he actually played an NBA game.
It came during his four years at Wake Forest where… (errr… record scratch…)… well, actually in a lot of ways that right there, might be the most incredible part of Duncan’s career altogether. The fact that he played four years of college basketball at all makes him an outlier of the highest kind. The fact that he did it when he could have easily left after his sophomore or junior years makes it all the more amazing.
And in a lot of ways, it’s a part of Duncan’s career that no one talks about. While tributes are pouring in over his 19-year NBA career (and rightfully so) let’s also never forget that he was the last of a kind at the college level as well. He truly was the last, great four-year college star, the final player who repeatedly turned down NBA millions to stick around campus.
It’s something we haven’t seen since, and almost certainly never will again.
— Wake Forest Sports (@DemonDeacons) July 11, 2016
By now, the backstory of how Duncan ended up at Wake Forest, has been told and retold, but it worth mentioning one more time here. It starts with Duncan being born on the island of St. Croix and growing up as an amateur swimming sensation. Unfortunately a hurricane ruined those Olympic dreams, and a short time later Duncan’s mother passed away when he was just 14-years-old. At the time, he made a promise to her that he’d go to college and get his degree.
Of course by the time he got to college he had given up swimming, focused on basketball full-time, and by his sophomore year at Wake Forest he was a bona-fide star. After averaging just under 17 points and 12 rebounds that second college season, he could have easily gone into the NBA Draft, and according to none other than legendary Lakers GM Jerry West, would have been the No. 1 overall pick that year, ahead of guys Joe Smith, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace. He could have just as easily left after his junior year, where he averaged 19 and 12 and won ACC Player of the Year. Instead, even in an era where it was becoming increasingly common to leave after a year or two of college, he stuck around for that senior year.
Understand that part of the logic behind the move was the promise to his mother to get that degree, but another large part was, that by all accounts he simply enjoyed the campus experience too much. This is the same guy who, while an undergraduate psychology major, helped co-author the chapter of a Psych book, and who may have had the perfect quote to sum up his entire experience during an interview during his senior year with the Cincinnati Enquirer.
There, he said:
”I’m having fun in college, and I wanted to keep having fun. The money will be there. So I might get hurt. So I might not be No. 1. So what? Que sera. Basically, I asked myself why should I do something now that I’ll be better prepared to do in the future?”
That quote was quintessential Duncan, but little did anyone know that when he uttered it, it would essentially slam shut the door on the four-year college star.
— Wake Basketball (@TieDyeNation) July 11, 2016