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With little-to-no fanfare, Spurs legend and five-time NBA champion Tim Duncan announced his retirement on Monday, and almost instantly, the tributes from fans, teammates, and long-time competitors came pouring in via social media. Some of the more charming posts had to do with Duncan’s understated personality, including the time he tutored opposing player Etan Thomas on his post moves in the middle of a game or how he co-authored an academic paper in college about the pitfalls of egotistical and narcissistic personalities (no, really).
But many posts simply extolled his considerable virtues on the basketball court.
Timmy D. Say it ain't so!!! Greatest power forward ever!
— Dirk Nowitzki (@swish41) July 11, 2016
Shaquille O'Neal (@SHAQ) to ESPN on the retirement of longtime rival Tim Duncan: "Greatest power forward ever. Unbreakable power forward."
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) July 11, 2016
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 11, 2016
A common theme among those tributes had to do with the widely-held belief that Duncan will go down as the best power forward in NBA history. But Duncan’s actual position has always been debatable, to say the least, and back in 2012, it was actually the catalyst for a major rule change in the All-Star balloting system. Dubbed the “Duncan Dilemma,” the league eliminated the center position from the ballot and simply allowed fans to vote for three “frontcourt” players instead.
The rationale was that Duncan had always been listed as a power forward, but had actually played the center position, and that this therefore eliminated an opportunity for other legitimate forwards to make the All-Star team. His own coach, Gregg Popovich, admitted as much back in 2011. Via Dan McCarney of MySanAntonio.com:
Indeed, Duncan made the All-Star team in 2009, 2010 and 2011 as a forward despite having played almost exclusively at center, according to 82games.com.
Even Spurs coach Gregg Popovich seemed to acknowledge the charade on the eve of last year’s playoff series against Utah. When asked who the Spurs would start at center, Popovich said, “Tim Duncan, like we have for the last 15 years.”
So there you have it, straight from the mouth of the man who has set the lineups for the Spurs during Duncan’s entire 19-year career, although Pop has also been known to deploy that acerbic wit of his to have a little fun with the media from time to time. Regardless, it’s merely a question of semantics that in no way affects Duncan’s stature or positioning on the list of all-time greats.