These days the tirades are less frequent, but Popovich leans on his star in other ways. When the Spurs call a timeout and you see the San Antonio coaches huddle a few feet from the bench, it's not to hash out strategy. Rather, Pop is giving Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker time with the team. "You'll see Timmy over there with a young kid, talking about how he should do this or that or what we meant by such and such," says Popovich. "I'll come back to the timeouts sometimes and say, 'Are we square?' and Timmy will say, 'Yeah, we got 'em.'"
Popovich pauses. "He commands that type of respect because he doesn't demand it, if that makes sense."
10 Ferry Hunting
O.K., it's a toss-up as to how this will make you feel about Duncan: Did he once invite a bunch of teammates to a paintball course even though most had never played paintball? Perhaps. Did Duncan then stack his team with ringers and bring his own high-powered paintball gun? Maybe. Did he give certain players such as Danny Ferry guns that, according to Ferry, "were bent and shot six feet to the left every time"? There's a chance. And did Duncan then take great delight in hunting down his teammates, chasing the pale, balding, shorts-wearing Ferry until he was in close range, at which point Duncan unleashed a hail of water-soluble hellfire upon the man? It's possible.
11 He's Small-Time
One story among many: In the fall of 2003, during the Spurs' preseason training camp, most of the players stayed at a local hotel at the team's behest. Ferry and Steve Kerr, however, decided to commute from their homes. Both were nearing the end of their careers and had kids. They figured the hotel was intended for the younger players, to keep them in line.
On the third day of camp, Ferry and Kerr pulled up to the practice facility just as the team bus arrived from the hotel. A succession of rookies exited the bus. At the rear was Duncan, six years in the league already. He took one look at Kerr and Ferry. "Wait a second, are you guys staying at home?" Duncan asked, incredulous.
"Yup," said Kerr.
Duncan's eyes got wider. "You mean you can do that?"
Ferry stared back at him. "Tim, you're the league MVP. You can do whatever you want."