Earlier this summer, the NBA bid farewell to one of the greatest players of all time. In typical Tim Duncan fashion, the Big Fundamental announced his retirement rather quietly with limited spotlight and media attention. This came just days after all talks were on the free agent signing of Kevin Durant and how unstoppable the Golden State Warriors will be. The retirement was also very different from fellow future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant who was given a farewell tour and long tribute throughout the entire 2015-2016 season. Tim Duncan will always be known for his stellar play, with 2 MVPs and 5 Championships as only parts of his long list of accomplishments. Yes, he will always be known as a winner, however, his legacy as one of the greatest ever was also cemented by his humility and humble attitude. The San Antonio Spurs were very fortunate to have a Captain with this demeanor to not only lead the franchise to developing a winning culture, but also a professional and respectable foundation. The game will never be the same without Tim Duncan and his nearly perfect fundamental game. So the question is, will there ever be another superstar who can mirror his humble attitude?
Look no further, as the San Antonio Spurs are fortunate to once again have one of the most humble superstars in the NBA. The Spurs knew exactly what they were doing when they traded fan favourite George Hill for draft pick Kawhi Leonard. Learning from both Gregg Poppovich and Tim Duncan, Kawhi has not only improved his game each and every season, but has mimicked the same humble attitude as Timmy D. The entire world recognized Kawhi’s greatness when he helped the San Antonio Spurs to back to back Finals, capturing the Championship in 2014. Kawhi was awarded Finals MVP particularly for his stellar defensive efforts on LeBron James. Going from a role player to a go-to superstar, Kawhi is arguably the best two way player in the league. Winning Defensive Player of the Year in back to back seasons (first non-centre since Dennis Rodman to do so) and averaging 21.2 points per game, Kawhi also finished 2nd in MVP voting after leading the Spurs to 67-15 season (only 1 home loss).
It’s hard to stay humble in today’s society, let alone the game of basketball. When someone trash talks you on the court, it’s almost natural to jaw back. When someone criticizes you on social media, it is tempting to expose them. When you dunk on or block a player, it feels so good you want to scream. When the crowd needs to get energized, it seems necessary to raise your arms and beat your chest. Lastly, when you’re playing in the big leagues and making the big bucks, it is fun to go wild and boast about your lifestyle. Kawhi Leonard has seemingly never done any of the above. He is the type of player capable of doing a crossover dunk and rather than rubbing it in, just casually gets back on defense ready for the next possession. When Kevin Durant stated Leonard is just a product of a good system, Kawhi shrugged it off. Despite signing a 5 year $94 million contract he does not live a wealthy lifestyle and apparently still drives a ’97 Chevrolet. It’s simple, Kawhi is a happy man and does not like to bring attention to himself.
Many players have thrived under Gregg Poppovich’s authority and disciplining coaching style. It has created some of the best basketball players to ever step foot on the court and Kawhi is proof that the future is still bright despite the departure of Tim Duncan. Players want to come to San Antonio to not only win but bring out the best in their game. Kawhi has also been an excellent selling point for free agents such as LaMarcus Aldridge and recently signed Pau Gasol. Of course playing in San Antonio comes with greater responsibility. Players must be willing to sacrifice playing time, offensive touches, and partying during the season. You must also be thick skinned and prepared to have Poppovich scream in your ear over any mistakes or bad attitude.
Led by Kawhi Leonard, the San Antonio Spurs appear to be the only team in the Western Conference capable of taking on the Golden State Warriors. Their team styled system and talented front court will be a nightmare matchup against any team in the league. Gregg Poppvich and the players have no issues with limited spotlight heading into the 2016-2017 campaign. Words alone cannot describe how special this franchise is. The players and coaches have become role models for athletes and children across the world. There is no doubt that society and sports would be more respectable if everyone had the same mentality as the Spurs organization. San Antonio will open the season on October 25th when they visit the title favourite Golden State Warriors.