Until the wheels fall off…
In announcing his timetable for retirement at the start of training camp, Tim Duncan accomplished a feat so rare that few of the all-time greats have ever achieved it.
In signing Tony Parker to an extension–along with Manu Ginobili last year–that keeps the Spurs All-Star backcourt intact through their primes, the San Antonio Spurs took a large step towards an even rarer feat–extending that honor to their championship core.
Until the wheels fall off.
Only under the most exceptional of circumstances has a superstar been able to dictate the end of his career on those terms and have the authority to back it up. For an entire core, it’s almost inconceivable.
Greatness alone is not a precursor for security, as evident by Michael Jordan ending his career in a Washington Wizards uniform and running mate Scottie Pippen playing his last relevant game with the Blazers.
It takes a perfect marriage of the right superstar, organization, and city to go the distance.
For that, the Spurs organization and its fan base deserve to be lauded. In San Antonio, head coach Gregg Popovich has developed a culture of family and stability that permeates throughout the organization.
While basketball is ultimately a business and there will be a time to criticize the Parker or Ginobili extensions–especially as they age–and debate blowing the roster up, one cannot genuinely applaud the character of the Spurs organization for carrying themselves above other NBA teams while questioning them for doing just that.
Extending Tony Parker is not like extending Mike Conley.
These are not merely fan favorites like Malik Rose, or journeyman-turned-vital-contributor like Bruce Bowen. Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker are hallmarks of the franchise.
Furthermore, the three can still play. Granted, the days of the San Antonio Spurs, as constituted, being favored for an NBA championship are over. Given their productivity through the decade there is no shame in that.
But they are not exactly bad enough to blow up either. Should everything fall perfectly into place (health, internal development, luck), this is a team that will still give itself a chance against any opponent. And while many would prefer not toÂ count on everything falling into place perfectly, realize that all NBA titles take a confluence of all these components.
In planning for the post Tim Duncan era, one is assuming there will be one. Duncan is a once in a generation talent, Ginobili and Parker were needle in a haystack finds.
Tim Duncan is the sole piece that legitimazes the Spurs championship aspirations, while a healthy and optimized Ginobili and Parker–barring an unforseen and unlikely Gasol-like deal–offer him the best chance.
Understand, Duncan is the Spurs and has been the man responsible for all the success the team has sustained. More than most athletes in history, this franchise owes this athlete the opportunity to finish out his career as he pleases, with the teammates he’s comfortable with.
Someday these three jerseys will hang together from the rafters of the AT&T Center, it would be fitting if they were the only ones the three wore in the NBA. But not until the wheels fall off.