Tim Duncan's stoic heroics
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

You remember the Stoics? The third-century Greek philosophers who gathered on the porch of the Athens market, shooting the calm, cool, and collected breeze, preaching wisdom and restraint, and resisting the influence of passions?

I ask because I'm still dealing with night terrors from my stuffed-shirt freshman philosophy professor and his final; and because, well, it hit me this morning that Tim Duncan is a Stoic.

Tim Duncan
The celebration of a Stoic.
Right now, in the NBA, in all of big-time professional sports, he's the Stoic. He's the king of quiet in a cacophonous world full of cell phones ringing and mouths running, a man from another time and place.

Duncan moves on the court the way giraffes move across the Serengeti: deceptively quick, unexpectedly graceful, in-the-moment, understated and imperturbable.

He's drop-steps and bank shots. He's passing out of the double and backing down on the block. He's soft jump hooks and easy fade-aways. He's working the glass like it ain't nothing but a thing.

And he's money. Night in and night out.

You don't measure Tim in short bursts or jaw-dropping highlights. You measure him by the numbers (21.8 ppg, 12.9 rpg, 2.5 blks, and two rings) in the book; and more importantly, you measure him by the company he keeps in the books of history.

TD is young and there are years' worth of games to play, but there is no doubt he's already made the Stoical Hall of Fame. He's right in there alongside guys like ...

-- Jim Brown, always staring keen and clear at a point straight through and way past the poor slob standing in his way, always kicking tacklers aside as if he was Babe the Blue Ox felling trees with a flick of his tail.

-- Sandy Koufax on the hill, with that short, sweet swayback and devastating left. Sandy Koufax in the locker room, with his arm in a bucket, shrugging off another night of putting a pounding on the laws of physics and putting a flutter in the hearts of young hitters and fans of all ages.

-- The Great One, skating at a different speed and at different angles -- sometimes faster, sometimes slower, sometimes sharper, sometimes softer -- than the other players on the ice, as if the game were a dance rather than a struggle, as if he could skate unnoticed if it weren't for the puck laying at the back of the net.

Joe Montana
They don't come much cooler than Joe Montana.
-- Joe Montana with 92 yards and 190 seconds left to go, and one of those shiny, jewel-encrusted rings on the line.

-- John Stockton coming off a high Malone pick, getting low to the ground and figuring the math on a pass thrown at a 37-degree angle through a hole 12.002 inches wide within a .017-second window, and then back-pedaling to the defensive end like maybe he's done this kind of thing, oh, 15,000-odd times before.

-- Barry Sanders handing the ball to the ref.

-- Greg Maddux strolling off the mound.

-- Kareem flicking his wrist from 19.

-- Johnny Unitas with Alan Ameche at his back one cold night in New York. Hell, Johnny U any time, any place.

-- Cal Ripken Jr. forever.

And ...

-- Larry Bird always and all ways.

My memories of my stuffed-shirt professor notwithstanding, we love the stoical masters because -- great as they are -- they come off humble when it'd be easy and common and cool to come with hubris instead.

We love them because -- brilliant and bigger-than-life as they are -- there's something familiar about the understated way they carry themselves, something that makes them seem like regular folks, something that reminds us of the way our moms and dads put in a full day's work, something that echoes the lessons we try to tell our kids.

Tim Duncan
All work and no play make Tim Duncan a joy to watch.
Some of us love them, too, because the new-jack thing confuses, and maybe even offends, us, and so we hold-tight to an old-fashioned thing we remember as basic and built-to-last.

And some of us love them right alongside the flair of the young turks, happy to have different styles and personalities strutting and fretting their hours upon the big stage at the same time.

We dig Duncan in some or all of these ways. And when we watch him go about his quiet business again on Friday night against Seattle -- Who has ever been so fluid, so light, and yet so big and so dominant? Abdul-Jabbar, perhaps, but he worked out away from the bucket more than Duncan does; and Tim seems all the more liquid and lyrical because he's so often in among the banging and the bodies -- we dig him, too, because he reminds us of the pantheon and calls up our memories of the Stoics who've come before him.

But there's one other thing at the heart of our feeling for TD and the other stoical geniuses. It's maybe the most basic and true thing of all. Hushed-up and stripped-down as he is, Duncan's a bad, bad man, you know what I'm saying. His fundamental moves are street-tough throwdowns. His subtle delivery is a howling smackdown in sheep's clothing.

We know the only kind of silent he really is is a silent assassin.

And that, we can't get enough of.

Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.



Eric Neel Archive

Neel: Montreal mischief

10 Burning Questions with Jack Nicholson

Neel: Bowling for booty

Email story
Most sent
Print story

espn Page 2 index