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TWICE Blessed
Jack McCallum
December 15, 2003
Drafted No. 1 by the Spurs a decade apart, David Robinson and Tim Duncan led the franchise to a second NBA title in five years while making ever greater contributions to the Alamo City
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December 15, 2003

Twice Blessed

Drafted No. 1 by the Spurs a decade apart, David Robinson and Tim Duncan led the franchise to a second NBA title in five years while making ever greater contributions to the Alamo City

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As the clock wound down on the final game of his 14-year NBA career, David Robinson shimmied. Standing at the end of the San Antonio Spurs' bench, he shook with pleasure, pumped his fists and gazed upward at a spot well beyond the ceiling of the SBC Center. For the ramrod-straight Admiral, that counts as a shimmy. � Moments later his San Antonio teammate Tim Duncan gazed blankly at the scoreboard that showed 36.5 seconds remained in the final game of his team's 2002-03 championship season. Duncan raised a fist to shoulder level, turned and walked toward the sideline, where he was embraced by his exultant teammates. The Big Fundamental does not shimmy. � For the six years that Robinson and Duncan shared the frontcourt and the spotlight—culminating with a decisive 88-77 victory over the New Jersey Nets in Game 6 of the Finals six months ago—they brought their team stunning success with surpassing tranquility. The Spurs won seven of every 10 regular-season games, never finished below second in the Midwest Division and claimed a pair of NBA titles. While other franchises plowed through the Sturm und Drang of dissension and it's-my-team lip-flapping, nary a word of jealousy between Robinson and Duncan ever became public if, indeed, any was uttered at all.

San Antonio, in turn, came to be viewed in sports circles as a tough place to win but a decent place to be, and be from. Its residents have long considered the city a special place—"every Texan's favorite town after his hometown," says former Spurs owner Red McCombs. There's the mission architecture; the charming (if somewhat touristy) Riverwalk; and, of course, the Alamo, where almost 200 defenders died battling Santa Anna's troops in 1836. The two towering, tough-minded Spurs enhanced that landscape by showing that achievement and citizenship are not mutually exclusive. It is for being twin pillars of both a championship team and a community that we have chosen Tim Duncan and David Robinson as SI's 2003 Sportsmen of the Year.

They are the seventh twosome to share the honor and only the second to have shared a locker room. Robinson exited the SBC Center on a high note, with 13 points, 17 rebounds and two blocked shots in the clincher against New Jersey. A 7'1" former gymnast with Navy-issue posture and cartoonishly oversized biceps, he averaged 21.1 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over his career and was a marvel of athleticism until knee and back injuries slowed him down. When young Spurs such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili see film of the young Robinson, they watch in wide-eyed wonder as this giant in short shorts with wheels worthy of a point guard soars above the basket to snare rebounds, block shots and finish fast breaks. "That's David?" they ask. "No center in the history of the game," says San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, "did the athletic things that David did in his prime."

The most spectacular thing about Duncan is that he's spectacular without appearing to be. He is big (listed at 7 feet, he is actually 6'10�"), but others are bigger, stronger and quicker. A catalog of the adjectives that describe Duncan's game only damn him with faint praise—economical, efficient, fundamental. He is the league's reigning MVP and Finals MVP for the simplest of reasons: He has no weakness. He can score (22.9 points per game on 51% shooting), he can rebound (12.3), he can pass (3.2 assists) and he can defend (all-defensive first team for the last five seasons). Moreover, Duncan is at his best when it matters most: Every year in the playoffs his scoring, rebounding and assist averages are better than those of the regular seasons. All Duncan is, right now, is the best player in the world.

We honor them too for the way they fit together in San Antonio, one superstar and No. 1 draft pick ( Duncan in '97) biding his time until the other superstar and No. 1 draft pick ( Robinson in '87) was ready to cede the starring role. The mind boggles at the clamorous scenes that would have unfolded in Los Angeles had Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant had to share the same spot for the Lakers. Robinson, a post-up center, and Duncan, a post-up power forward, figuratively and literally had to make room for each other, a display of selflessness at which both men shrug their shoulders. "It was a natural process," says Duncan. "When I came in, David was the Man and I was just trying to learn the game, develop under his wing. And when it was time for me to do more, David understood it without a word being spoken."

Well, maybe a word or two. "Sure, I had a few talks with Pop, because it was a tough thing for me when the offense started going through Tim," says Robinson. "But it never got to the argument stage because how could I not accept it? It was the right thing to do."

Robinson, 38, who retired after last season's championship (and is currently serving as SI's Ambassador of Sport during the magazine's 50th-anniversary celebration), is the most public of figures in San Antonio—"Citizen Number 1," as Bob Rivard, editor of the San Antonio Express-News, calls him. He has been involved in countless philanthropic projects in the 16 years that he's been the face of the Spurs, most notably Carver Academy, a school serving many disadvantaged children that he established in September 2001 and into which he's sunk (so far) $9 million. "It's a bit glib to say that someone could be anything he wants to be," says Henry Cisneros, who served four terms as the city's mayor in the 1980s. "But it is absolutely the case with David. I've met every president since Jimmy Carter, as well as most of the men who ran for president, and David has the kind of qualities, the personal magnetism, the charisma, the intelligence, to be presidential timber."

Duncan, 27, prefers to keep a low profile (accompanying story, page 66), and anyone who considers him presidential timber would have to ignore his all-occasions wardrobe of jeans and the loose-fitting short-sleeved shirts favored in his native St. Croix. But through his eponymous foundation he raises money for cancer research and youth sports in the U.S. Virgin Islands, in Winston-Salem, N.C. (he graduated from Wake Forest), and in San Antonio. His wife of two years, Amy, is executive vice president of the organization.

Further, in a sports world gone mad with narcissism, Duncan is a two-time MVP who eyes a camera as if it were a poisonous snake. He presents a conundrum to the media members pursing him: Though he aggravates them because he seldom cooperates, he has their grudging respect because he refuses to play their game. Duncan's reticence stems from a near pathological aversion to being elevated above his fellow Spurs. If a teammate, an assistant coach or even an assistant trainer happens by during an interview, he will invariably interrupt to yell a friendly insult. The message: I'm talking to this guy, but I'd rather be hanging with you. Which is, of course, the truth.

"If we need anything in the world today, it's a little bit more of a philosophical bent," says Popovich. "We need people who know what their job is, do it superbly and don't care about the adulation. That's Tim."

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