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1999 NBA Playoffs

Spur of the moment

Duncan's humble roots in St. Croix have grown large

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Posted: Tuesday June 29, 1999 04:11 PM

  Swimming was Tim Duncan's first love, shared by his sister Tricia, a member of the Virgin Islands Olympic team. CNN/SI

ST. CROIX, Virgin Islands (CNN/SI) -- The island is tiny. Just an emerald speck in the Caribbean. But from this land rose a giant. A quiet noble legend who has begun to take on mythic proportions.

This island is St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. And Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs by way of Wake Forest University is her most famous export. It doesn't take you long to hear the trumpets and the see the signs. The NBA All-Star can be found everywhere. From his picture at the airport's exit, to the replica of his game jersey on the people's backs. Tim Duncan is here, there, everywhere. Even on the front of a soda machine.

"I'm sure you have heard of the Virgin Islands before," Gerard Luz James II, Lt. Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands tells a visitor. "And anytime you hear the Virgin Islands, they single out St. Thomas or St. John's. Never you hear about St. Croix. Well Tim has placed St. Croix on the chart or on the map. We are now known because of Tim Duncan."

Rashidi Clenance, one of Duncan's best friends, has known the San Antonio Spurs star since elementary school and remembers the cruel taunts of the other children.

"I knew him as a tall kid that wasn't in the popular group," he says. "As kids, part of becoming accepted is by making another kid feel rejected. He [Tim] stood out. He was much bigger than the rest of us. Some guys were real cruel to him."

Duncan was a budding world class swimmer then. His sister was a member of the Virgin Islands Olympic team.

So, just how good a swimmer could Tim Duncan have been?

"As a swimmer, Tim Duncan could have been tremendous," Clenance said. "That's when the Virgin Islands first got a glimpse of Tim Duncan the athlete. I always tell people that Tim Duncan could have been famous either way."

But fate, cruel and unyielding, stepped in. Hurricane Hugo decimated the island in 1989 and among the victims and damaged property was the pool in which Tim and the others trained. A year later, his mother --- and biggest booster -- died of cancer.

One of their own: Every kid on St. Croix wants to be Tim Duncan. AP  

He would swim competitively no more. Instead, Duncan turned his natural gifts into the game of basketball.

On a small island like St. Croix, townspeople stick together. While Tim's father was a strict parent, others took the role of booster. Sarah Harvey for one, owns a restaurant -- Harvey's -- that nearly doubles as a Duncan museum.

Another supporter is the quiet, subtle island radio talk show host, Mario Moorhead, who calls Duncan his "fish and fugi boy" after the local delicacy.

On this particular afternoon, Moorhead sent out a personal invitation to his listeners: "We are inviting you to come down to Harvey's Restaurant this good afternoon. The game is at 5:30."

And so, on this afternoon, as Tim's father watches in person, what would seem to be the rest of the island, gathers at Sarah's to watch the game on television as the Spurs take on the Lakers from Los Angeles. The crowd is so large, it spills over into the huge tent next door.

One of those looking on is Cuthbert George, Duncan's high school basketball coach, who even now -- six years later -- still feels the lingering effects.

"I feel so proud, and so happy to have one of my own playing in the NBA," George says. "We have a lot of kids looking up to him. And one thing, we have much more kids staying in school because of him."

These fans come in all sizes and ages and all with only one man on their mind. When the local hero drives the lane against the Lakers for a bucket, the crowd breaks out in a thunderous chorus of, "MVP! MVP! MVP!"

The islanders went away jubilant this night as though it had been the seventh game of the finals, and not just the second round.

But then, with such a famous messenger spreading the gospel of St. Croix to the world, and a slam-dunk of a sunset just waiting outside regardless, jubilation is not an unusual state here.

 
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Even an NBA All-Star can get picked on in school. (1.03 M)
Tim Duncan overcame many obstacles to make it to the NBA. (815 K)
There is no doubt who the real MVP is in St. Croix. (1.03 M)
Tim Duncan's presence looms large in St. Croix.
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