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Run silent, run deep

Duncan's bland demeanor hides premier talent

Posted: Tuesday June 7, 2005 12:22PM; Updated: Wednesday June 8, 2005 11:13AM
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Kenyon Martin; Tim Duncan
Tim Duncan's fundamantal approach has won the Spurs plenty of games, but not many endorsements for the two-time MVP.
Greg Nelson/SI
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Imagine a parallel universe in which Tim Duncan was the most popular player in the NBA. The streets would be dotted with black No. 21 Spurs jerseys, sportscasters would refer to him, shorthand, as "T-Dunc" or "Tim-peccable"; a sports drink would pump the jingle, "I Want to Get to the Rim like Tim!" and, across the gyms and blacktops of America, teenagers would catch the ball on the left block, mechanically turn, fire up a bank shot and then yell, "I just went TD on your ass!" He would have his own best-selling highlight video (Come Jump Hook With Me), nappy half-beards would be the rage and, instead of sticking out their tongues, youngsters would mimic the Duncan Blank Stare after made baskets.

But, of course, that is not the case. Rather, Duncan is referred to as a 'superstar' primarily by the few companies that he does represent, a not-so-klieg-light coalition of the ad community that includes H-E-B stores (Don't know what that means? You're not alone -- it's a grocery store chain in Texas and Mexico.), a video game called "Backyard Basketball" and forever-destined-to-be-a-soccer-company-or-a-dirty-acronym Adidas. Some commentators, especially those named "Skip Bayless," argue that Duncan is not a superstar because he is not exciting to watch. This very Web site, back in 2003, wrote a story called "Sports' Most Boring Superstars," in which the author listed the 'most yawn-inducing superstars' and put Duncan at the top, writing that his "Claim to Lame," is that "we'd rather have Shaq over for dinner." (Duncan, who has a dry sense of humor when he shows it, once said of his famously bland quotes, ""Wasn't I on SI.com's all-boring team? I'm at the top of my game, baby!")

Regardless, there is no disputing that Duncan is less visible, and less popular, than most NBA stars. Despite being a two-time league MVP, owner of two championship rings, and an all-the-time, All-NBA selection, he was eclipsed in popularity in the span of one season by Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James when the duo entered the league, and he will never be as recognizable a star as Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson.