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Just one of the guys

Spurs take cues from Duncan, the ultimate teammate

Posted: Wednesday June 6, 2007 2:06PM; Updated: Wednesday June 6, 2007 2:23PM
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Tim Duncan (left), sharing a moment here with Robert Horry, reveals his outgoing side when around teammates.
Tim Duncan (left), sharing a moment here with Robert Horry, reveals his outgoing side when around teammates.
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Not quite two hours before Game 1 of the NBA Finals you will find the Spurs' Tim Duncan on the court, stretching his back, shooting his way around the world and systematically readying the post-up moves and bank shots that he'll be applying to the 881st game of his NBA career, not counting preseason or All-Star appearances. Night after night, month upon month culminating 10 years now, and yet he doesn't look stale.

"It's habit, it's what gets my mind and my body into the mind-set to feel right going into a basketball game,'' Duncan says of his pregame routine. "So no, it doesn't get boring to me.''

He glances aside. "Uhh,'' he says, "actually, I lie on that point.''

The tedium does overwhelm him from time to time, he admits, in which cases he'll play a shooting game with an assistant "to break the monotony.'' The important thing is that he maintains his rhythm. The work defines him as the daily run makes the marathoner: He misses it badly when he fails to do it.

"If I have a day off, I'll come back in and the rhythm just won't feel the same,'' he says. "To do it every day and to have your mind and body in synch, it helps.''

Duncan's relationship with his fans is unique in the modern NBA. Perhaps they have trouble relating to him because he is private, because he hasn't created a misleading commercial personality to mask the real one as so many stars do, and because his game is so smooth and without hitch that he is accused of lacking in style.

"The way he conducts himself on the court, he doesn't have any kind of attention-seeking characteristics,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says. "And his style of play is such a fundamental style that it's not flamboyant or awkward or different from the norm. The norm is what's rare now: You have everybody doing everything every which way. He does things the way we were coached when we were little kids -- his footwork, his body movement, everything that he does. It's not sexy. But it's efficient.''

And yet it would be wrong to say that Duncan hasn't attracted a following. The fans, after all, have voted him to start the last eight All-Star Games. They may not feel they know him personally, as they knew Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan, but they respect him dearly.

*****

The criticism of Duncan has long been that his personality lacks depth, that he hasn't revealed himself to the fans who bankroll his career. Over the last half decade it has emerged that Duncan has been investing himself in relationships with his teammates, which hasn't come naturally to him. Duncan may not wink at the courtside TV cameras because he's too busy reading the body language of his fellow Spurs.

"He obviously prefers to stay within himself -- he's not an outgoing guy with the media or he doesn't want to do lot of commercials -- and yet within the circle of the team he's not like that at all,'' Spurs assistant P.J. Carlesimo says. "He's a very outgoing person. We can be on the road in preseason with a 19-man roster and you'll see him go out to lunch or dinner with two or three guys who are not going to be around next week. Or later in the season he'll be with the guy on the 10-day contract. That's the guy Timmy will go out of his way to take to dinner or spend some time with.

"If somebody else got jumped on by one of the coaches, or if somebody misses a big shot in a game, Tim is the guy who is going to say something to him. I've seen it week in, week out, and it happens too many times to be an accident.''

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