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|Fundamental friendship: Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan push each other during offseason workouts.|
During All-Star Weekend in 2001, a jovial and outgoing 14-year-old walked up to a bored Tim Duncan in a television studio and introduced himself.
There was about to be a segment filmed for CNN on some now-forgotten basketball topic with a panel of Duncan, Alonzo Mourning, Chamique Holdsclaw and Darius Miles. Duncan probably wasn't thrilled to be there, but a young Roy Hibbert was.
"He was just sitting there with his head on his hand, looking tired," Hibbert said of Duncan. "When I asked him about it a couple years ago, I couldn't believe that he actually remembered the encounter."
It's not every day a teen gets to meet an idol, and it's not every day you run into a 6-foot-9 high school freshman, either. Duncan and Hibbert were an outlier pair then, and they are even more so now.
Hibbert is very outgoing and engages regularly with fans whether it is through social media or his sponsoring a section of rowdy fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where he personally selects the members after live auditions. Duncan is famously private and reserved and wouldn't dream of posting a picture of himself trying to fit into an airplane bathroom like Hibbert did over the summer. Ten years apart in age and at polar opposites in personality, you wouldn't expect the two to click or for Duncan to allow Hibbert into his insular and private cricle.
But two years ago during the lockout, Hibbert asked Indiana Pacers teammate and former San Antonio Spur George Hill to reach out to Duncan on his behalf. Hibbert still deeply admired Duncan, but even though he'd been in the NBA for three years, he'd still not spoken to the future Hall of Famer since that day back in 2001. It made the ask all the more unusual. Hibbert wanted to know if Duncan would work out with him and be willing to teach him.
"I'd never spoken to him," Hibbert said. "But I wanted to learn from the best."
What has happened since is one of the NBA's more interesting, if largely unknown, friendship/rivalries. It's not as headline-grabbing as when LeBron James and Kevin Durant hook up for offseason workouts, but it's in the same vein. Duncan and Hibbert are two of the league's best big men, especially defensively, and were within a game of playing each other in the Finals last year.
Duncan was impressed that Hibbert came to him, and he quickly built a relationship with Hibbert.
"During the lockout, everyone was looking for someone to work out with," Duncan said. "I saw quickly that he's got a good work ethic."
They weren't just working out together, they were going to dinners and having long conversations. They were talking strategy and personal life. Duncan started sending Hibbert his personal scouting reports on opposing big men throughout the league, and Hibbert starting sharing his notes as well.
In 2012, both Hibbert and Duncan were free agents and a good portion of their summer was spent handling business, which kept them from working out together. But this past August, Hibbert was back in San Antonio for a week to renew his training. This time, with no lockout, he had to get permission from the Spurs and the Pacers to work with Duncan at the Spurs' facility.
They hired a boxing trainer to help them build strength and develop footwork, and then they played shooting games against each other before spending some of the evenings together.
"He had a great year last year, and I was proud of him," Duncan said. "He wants to improve every year, he wants to come here and he wants to put the work in. I've always been excited to have him."
This summer Hibbert, who's main focus when he came to the NBA was to refine his body and lose weight, was trying to put some weight on. He believes that offensive rebounds are crucial to his contribution to the Pacers' offense. In the playoffs last season, when Hibbert played better than at any time in his career, he boosted his offensive rebounding by nearly two per game and it directly led to an increase in scoring. He averaged just 12 points in the regular season, but 17 in the postseason.
Duncan, meanwhile, had his best season in three years in 2012-13 after dropping weight. He again reported to training camp with the Spurs lighter than he was a few years ago.
Despite having different offseason workout goals -- and the fact that Hibbert's Pacers were a single win away from facing off with Duncan's Spurs in the Finals, which naturally should make them more into rivals than collaborators -- both say they plan on continuing the partnership.
"We're different kinds of players, but there's so much I can learn from him," Hibbert said. "Every time I'm with him, I take something new away with me."