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Work your magic, big Merlin.
Yesterday I asked you to send me links to the most enlightening Tim Duncan articles, interviews, and videos that you could find.
The NBA's reality is that we are deep into the Tim Duncan era -- he is the dominant player of the day -- and yet whenever he is on TV almost no one wants to watch. This year's Finals promise to deliver low ratings.
My knee-jerk response is: watch! Watch him, specifically. Watch tonight. What he does is truly amazing. He owns that paint. And he's so unbelievably efficient. If you get in a certain mood, it's stunning to see.
But I realize that's not for everyone, and unless people can find something to latch onto from this man's character, the "cardboard personality" factor could continue crippling the league for years to come.
But it's a myth that he isn't fascinating. He just isn't comfortable being fascinating in a way that works for typical sports media. (In fact, I think you could make the case that he knows exactly how to be fascinating, but is calculating and intentionally not so.)
The interesting stuff is in there, for sure. It's just not easy to find. TrueHoop reader Terremoto sent me an email that makes it frightfully clear to me how Tim Duncan needs to be marketed to the world: as a wizard. I'm serious! Terremoto writes:
Tim Duncan is the NBA's first superstar nerd. I find it very interesting that Tim Duncan's off the court pursuits include sword and knife collecting, Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy videogames & paintball. Add to that, dude's got a freakin' tattoo of Merlin from Arthurian lore! His other tat is of a Skeleton Jester. No barbed wire or homages to dead relatives here. Just pure (and endearing) D&D nerdcore.
Another NERDCORE story: He wanted his nickname to be "Merlin" when he first got to the league, but his teammates weren't having it.
Wizard. Merlin. D&D. Nerdcore (a word I am using for the first time right now.) Love it or hate it, it's the first true thing about Tim Duncan that everyone can understand in a heartbeat. Everyone knows a dude or two like that.
And that is really him.
I want to see him in a Wizard costume, casting spells, at every NBA event until further notice.
Of course, readers sent me far more than just that.
One of the best stories out there is this documentary about his relationship with Gregg Popovich. Tim Duncan is a good person -- the kind of person who should be celebrated as a role model. Isn't that what we always said we wanted from our basketball players?
S.L. Price wrote a nice Duncan story called "The Quiet Man" (should be here, although link doesn't seem to work at the moment) about Duncan when he was named Sportsman of the Year with his teammate David Robinson. It includes this insightful passage:
Television ratings for the 2003 NBA Finals were down one third from the year before--down, in fact, to their lowest level since the Nielsen rating system began keeping track of the Finals in 1976. Only one thing had changed since 2002: The small-market Spurs, led by Duncan, were back. Here he was at last, the athlete all the moralists and parents and columnists had been seeking for years, the role model, the anti-Me-Me-Me man, finally coming into his own, showcasing the type of game that hoops aficionados had feared was passing into history. But when it came time to watch, Duncan was found lacking.
Does he have to talk the talk, too? Maybe the NBA, in seeking to jack up ratings with years of personality marketing (Shaq! Michael! The Showdown!), has sold the game so far down the river that excellence isn't enough anymore. Maybe Duncan is the litmus test for separating the pure fan from those who are there for the spectacle. Maybe we like (or need) to watch a superstar perp-walk into a police station. Maybe, in the end, we say we value one thing--teamwork, humility, good citizenship--but really want its opposite and switching channels makes it easy to avoid the obvious. Nobody likes being caught in a lie.
This is, I am told (and would love confirmation UPDATE: Not only is it real, but the writer who helped make the assignment reality was none other than my old HOOP colleague Darryl Howerton who is a role model of Tim Duncan appreciation), Tim Duncan's psychoanalysis of himself, from the 1998 lockout, which was published in the March 1999 issue of Sport magazine. As reproduced on a blog I have never heard of, here is a key excerpt:
I'm sure that right now you are all thinking that I must be crazy. But, I assure you, I am normal, I told you I just am always thinking, sometimes about really crazy random things. But in all seriousness, it really should be difficult for me to be too strange. After all, a great family raised me. I had great friends, support and teaching at Wake Forest. I came to a first-class organization in the Spurs family. My best friend from college, Marc Scott, is my business manager, handling my day-to-day operations. And my agent is an attorney by the name of Lon Babby, who also represents players such as Grant Hill and Nikki McCray. I have the loving support of my girlfriend who still attends Wake Forest and is nearing graduation. She helps me cope with the everyday rigors of being an NBA player.
I'm surrounded by nothing but great people. I've been blessed with that, so really, I've got no choice but to be an all-around good person.
At this point, if I were to psychoanalyze myself, I'd have to say I am a clown, cleverly disguised as a regular person. I enjoy jokes, smiling, and making people smile. I may be a little different, but that's OK, who wants to be normal anyway?
There's a whole bunch more Tim Duncan insight out there. For instance: