Why don't we get Tim Duncan?
And that's not "Why don't we understand him?" Because to misunderstand someone, you have to at least have a passing knowledge of them. We don't know Tim Duncan.
At USA Today, Sam Amick, one of the premier player-centric reporters on the web, has a piece on Duncan specifically built around the fact that Duncan still doesn't let anyone in.
"The Big Stoic," "The Big Recluse" or — if you care for the classics — "The Big Fundamental" has agreed to field two questions about his latest Father Time-defying feats. And the first query about how hes doing it — "What drives you at this point in your career?" — inspired a smirk that, much like the secrets to his remarkable season, will go unexplained. And the answer, as is almost always the case when it comes to him, isnt nearly as compelling as his one-of-a-kind career. "Its a lot of different stuff, but honestly I just feel healthy right now," Duncan told USA TODAY Sports during what evolved into a five-question session. "I feel like I have my legs underneath me for the first time in a while. My knee pain is way down, and I just feel good on the floor."
That's what you get. Lots of players feel they don't have any responsibility to the media, that all that matters is what's on the floor. His approach is that what you see is what you get.
So let's take a look at what we see.
There's this idea that the Spurs are boring and lifeless, and that couldn't be further from the truth; they just have no interest or willingness to give members of the media the time of day. And while this makes me unbelievably sad, it doesn't take away from their comedic genius, which is best shown in their series of commercials for Texas grocery store chain HEB (Here Everything's Better, in the most Texan Texas-y Texas thing ever).
You see his physical work here, as even in a two-second appearance, he manages to wrap a range of emotions into his work. Contentment, surprise, confusion, it's all there. This still counts as more emotion than he has ever expressed on the court outside of when Joey Crawford is officiating a game.
The tuxedo shirt is clearly the high point here. Duncan's quiet moment of pride for this stylish opulence is a transcendent meta-parody of himself. The least boastful human being, left prideful by this bold fashion statement. PS: Russell Westbrook saw this commercial and immediately went out and bought 10 of these shirts.
Here, Duncan takes a more wry crack at himself. I particularly enjoy this era of Tim Duncan style, with the mild fro and the near-Matisyahu beard. He seems to be trying to speak to us in a place beyond "That Green Stuff" (which really is incredible). He's trying to let us know that beneath that clockwork exterior stands a soul with the wide range of human experience we all struggle through. Wherever Tim Duncan's happy place is, it is not the court.
(Additionally, "It makes me wish I had two mouths" by Tony Parker is the MVP line of this commercial. )
What's odd here is that Duncan is so consistent on the floor. You never find yourself saying "Man, Duncan simply is not giving great effort tonight." He plays at the same level each night. Yet, he's clearly not into the moment here. He's too self-conscious and seems caught between playing it straight and being annoyed at the antics of the other two. But maybe that's the point. Duncan isn't consistent everywhere, and it's only his hollow exterior when on the floor that allows him to clone his performance night after night.
(MVP Moment: Barry's one-hand candle blow-out.)
Duncan is engaged here. It's a strong performance from beginning to end, topped with the "It's better than y'all's!" at the end. "Y'all" is just not what you expect from Duncan, despite his time in Texas.
(Additional note: That's a very clear Texas "y'all." It's got the little lift on the a, vs., say, the Arkansas "y'all," which features a "wull" sound at the end. "Y'awull.")
Duncan's work as the straight man works, obviously. He's convincing as the narrow guy to play off of, without the overstated "What?" Ginobili provides. In many ways, Duncan experiences here what we all experience with him, the surprising discovery that we will never be let behind the rope.
(MVP moment: A Pop appearance?!)
You know what else is magic? Tim Duncan.
The fact that Duncan plays the oddball in these commercials is kind of amazing. He's the team leader and the Hall of Famer (or at least the first one to get in), and yet he's the guy who played Dungeons and Dragons and is a bit of a weirdo. It's a perfect setup for one of the most cerebral players of all time.
A departure from the HEB commercials brings us this classic from 2008. Duncan says nothing throughout the entire commercial, and in the filmed beginning with the introductions, he looks about as awkward as can be. "Why am I saying hi to you when I said hi to you five minutes ago and I don't like you?" seems to be his general mood.
It's also emblematic given that KG starts the game, Duncan finishes it.
In a lot of ways, this is our relationship with Tim Duncan. We keep offering him more and more of ourselves, our respect, appreciation, accolades, and he just stares back. Will he ever give us the American Express card ... of his heart? (OK, that was a bit much even for me. My bad.)
(MVP moment: The grin on his face when he hands over the card.)
And really, isn't that how Tim has passed through his era? Quietly?
He seems so friendly! "I just wanted somewhere people can hang out." Why will you never hang out with us, Tim? Why?
(Don't answer that.)
I have no commentary here; I just like Duncan's thumbs-up at the end.
"I heard mermaids."
"Mangoes don't do that, Manu."
So what did we learn?
Well, nothing. I just wanted to do breakdowns on all these Duncan commercials.
But here's what's nuts: This may be as close as we ever come to any sort of look at Duncan's personality or his wit. He's never going to let us in. Can't you imagine Duncan retiring in a few years, giving a brief Hall of Fame speech where he thanks Popovich and his teammates, and that's it? No book. No interviews. No TV appearances?
I want to blast Duncan and beg him to reveal more of himself, to tell him that the world just wants an opportunity to get past the exterior and maybe have a look at who he is out of respect and admiration, but there's no point in explaining the bicycle to the goldfish. He doesn't need it.
And neither does Tim Duncan.