Lucky Duncan: Spurs lifer knows where he belongs, and he's there

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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The heart of San Antonio, Duncan had 16 points and 11 boards in the Spurs' Game 1 win. (Getty Images)  
The heart of San Antonio, Duncan had 16 points and 11 boards in the Spurs' Game 1 win. (Getty Images)  

Let's be fair here. Tim Duncan is not offering to storm a foxhole in his underwear, or lift a tractor motor with his teeth. He is offering to remain with the team that has just finished paying him $21,300,000 to play basketball this year.

And let's be fair here. He knows with metaphysical certitude the San Antonio Spurs would never do anything but treat him with a deference entitled a man who has done for that franchise what he has done.

But let's be fair here. When he says, "I'm a Spur for life," he isn't doing it because he knows he has the situation locked. He's doing it because he found his perfect place with his perfect mates a long time ago, and because for him there truly is nothing better than being a Spur for life.

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In short, he is that luckiest of men: He knows where he belongs, and he's right there.

Of all the things people should strive for, this is hardest to manage. The call of Somewhere Else is always there -- right there in harmony with Something New, Something Bigger and Something More. It's how the culture keeps score, which is why the culture has tumbleweeds blowing through it. It imagines we are sharks, and when we stop moving, we die.

But it isn't true. For the truly blessed, one finds the place that works best for him and where he works best. For Duncan, it's a place where he has the bosses' ears and they have his. A place where he and his teammates long ago learned how to play with and for each other. A place where, after all these years, it's not about leverage any more.

Again, let's be fair. It took a lot of hard work for Duncan to find that place; it isn't luck alone that gave him an appreciation for what and where he is. That was upbringing, and it was smart people who knew that he was smart people.

So let's be fair. He isn't working for a bad boss who sweats out both the quarterly report and the grimy little middle management career-crawler above him, or the fearful upper management type who is worried about getting fired. He found his place and he's holding it. Two very different things.

But his situation makes you wonder how many athletes may have found their place, but gave it away in search of the Four Somethings. Because they needed more. Because their families needed more, or their entourages, or their agents, or the instinct of the shark.

Therein lies the great and hilarious duality of Tim Duncan saying, "I'm a Spur for life." Because the question "Why wouldn't he be?" is followed by the answer "Because he understands the difference between contentment and satisfaction."

He is content in San Antonio, because he has everything that matters. He is not satisfied that he has done enough in his career. He wants to win another title, maybe two. He wants to keep playing with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker and for Gregg Popovich, to see if they can keep what they've done going a little longer ... hell, maybe a lot longer.

But he's still content, something most athletes do not understand or are never given the chance to understand. They either live on the edge or are constantly pushed to play on the edge. They are supposed to dress and drive and dance in such a way that everyone can see them and make snap judgments about how they do it. They have to keep moving, because when the noise and colors stop, the silence and the darkness becomes deafening and frightening.

So let's be fair. Tim Duncan was lucky to become a Spur. The Spurs were lucky he remained a Spur. And they all get credit for having the big-picture smarts to understand the value in that. They get that, having achieved this state of mutually assured balance, there is no need for the Four Somethings. There is the One Bounty -- they've found it, and they've had the wisdom to build, nurture and cherish it.

So Tim Duncan wants to be Spur for life? A no-brainer. And yet, a realization that requires extraordinary wisdom.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast Sports Bay Area (CSNBayArea.com).

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