A simple handshake before the game, right? Except for the fact this simple gesture represents ten NBA Titles. Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan are two NBA Deities hovering through NBA Arenas, majestically. Their dominance and legacy is undeniable. Tim Duncan will probably be considered the best San Antonio Spurs player ever. Kobe will stand side by side with Chamberlain, Magic, Shaq, amongst other famous Lakers glories of the past. All the rest, as mere mortals, should just appreciate the final chapters written by these two basketball juggernauts
Their imprint is traceable to the very beginning of their careers. A sheer will to win. Two contrasting styles to obtain it, both effective. Moreover, they had the fortune to share the big stage with two of the best centers in NBA recent history: David Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal. History can be funny. If we look closer to their path and personalities, it almost seems they were bound to meet. Shaq and Kobe – with their conflicting personalities – managed to tame that “detail” for a higher calling: their burning desire to collect titles. They were both fierce competitors. On the other hand, both David Robinson and Tim Duncan had a more relaxed approach to the game, as if they didn’t care that much. Nevertheless, whenever they were in pressured situations, they delivered. Tim Duncan now shows in his “NBA Business Card”, a jaw-dropping 5-1 record in the Finals. Almost perfection. As for Kobe, he has an extra loss but a 5-2 record is remarkable nonetheless. What’s waiting for them next season? As we prepare to say farewell to these living legends of the game, it is time to cherish and appreciate what we have in store for next season.
Two Basketball Juggernauts + Two Strategic Masterminds = a match made in heaven
The “marriage” between Kobe and Shaq was a tumultuous one but it was lucky to have Phil Jackson as the “couple therapist”. Together, they formed one of the most lethal forces the league has ever seen. A perfect combination of strength and skill, inside and outside domination. The Zen Master was accostumed to deal with explosive personalities from the Bulls years. This next quote from Sam Smith is quite revealing regarding this particular subject:
As for Greg Popovich, what more can you say? When the season starts we always hear the same music: “The Spurs are too old”, “Father time will inevitably catch them”, “they will start declining now” and so on. A carrousel of statements that Popovich probably enjoys making fun of later on. This next season, when many saw a definitive end of an Era, the Spurs got the biggest prize on the free agent pool and next season they will be even better, maybe with their best team ever (check this article explaining the 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs are the best team ever Thesis) https://nbascholar.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/thesis-2015-16-spurs-are-the-best-team-ever-assembled/ Adding the likes of Lamarcus Aldridge and David West gives them the only thing the Spurs were lacking: players able to replace Tim Duncan with the same ability (if not more, in L. Aldridge case) to produce easy points. If we add the fact they kept the players who helped them to go all the way, then we are in for a fascinating season. When inquired about Tim Duncan’s game next year, Gregg Popovich gave us, as always, a delightful quote. If the discussion regarding who is the best coach ever may be a close one, there is little doubt who was the funniest of them all. Here’s what Popovich had to say about Tim Duncan as he approaches his 19th season:
So what exactly are the expectations for these two Legends? Well, here is where their path diverge. Tim Duncan has a team ready to win another Title this upcoming season. If they stay out of trouble (translation: injuries), they are perfectly capable of getting another title (that elusive sixth title, a la Michael Jordan). What will be Tim Duncan’s role in all of this? Expect him to rest even more than in previous years. If he sat out beforehand, now the Spurs have the luxury to play him accordingly to their own private agenda. Spurs might give him a week off or two. Even maybe – hey, it’s Tim Duncan! – taking a “sabbatical month” to teach the youngsters. Whatever he wants. He has now achieved an iconic status within the Spurs franchise. Having said that, it is not in Duncan’s nature just to sit and watch. Occasionaly, maybe, for some stretches… He is a renowned gamer, though. He won’t be happy just watching for a long time. While others run after acting jobs and big time publicity deals, others prefer a big trophy room.
In Kobe’s situation it would be highly unrealistic to think beyond a 7th or 8th seed in the Playoffs. Three factors originate this scenario:
1. The evolution of the rookies is a question mark. However talented they might be, there is always the rookie wall and the necessary adapting to the fast paced and frantic NBA game style. Also, for a young person living in LA, retaining focus should be a herculean task in itself.
2. With so many new players playing good chunks of minutes, it will be hard to forecast what will be their impact. Hibbert, Bass, Williams, Black are all poised for a comeback season. What better place to showcase your best moves than LA? It doesn’t get any more flashy than in the city of angels. It’s a good place to be hungry and ambitious.
3. Finally, the Kobe part of this equation. What kind of Kobe Bryant will we see? A dominant Kobe or a more secluded and “reluctant to force the issue” Kobe? As he prepares to shift to the small forward position, giving more playing time for the “kids” to adapt, Kobe is as determinate today as he was when he first joined the league. A student of the game. The NBA Scholar likes that. Kobe has nothing to prove anymore. He will probably be a bit more relaxed as he is getting to the final stop of his amazing NBA journey. Let us all hope he still has some more brilliant moves in his bag of tricks. It is a privilege to watch Kobe do his thing. For the Lakers organization, they are hoping he passes his “how to win Titles know-how” to the young players.
The last hurrah
Will this be Kobe or Duncan last season? Who knows? Best thing to do is to sit back and enjoy the privilege to watch on a daily basis these two Deitys of the game, showcasing their skill. Will there be a similar player to Kobe Bryant anytime soon? Or a Tim Duncan flawless fundamentals big man replica? The NBA Scholar seriously doubts it. This type of talent is not a recurrent one. It is more of a one of a kind. Next season Duncan and Kobe will go out chasing the 6th title that would put them in the same company as Jordan, from a number of titles achieved standpoint. Could they get to that magnificent Shangri-La? We will see. In any case, watching them go after it is Zen for any basketball fan. Floating up there, from the top of the mountain, with their combined 10 rings, they will shake hands a few more times. The handshake of consistent winners. A good example for the kids. They won a lot but also showed us class when losing. And that might be one of their biggest victories, in the end. Passing the torch of enthusiasm, respect, hard work and ambition. As for the conversation about who is the better one, the NBA Scholar thinks it is a draw. At the end of the day, their handshake seals a perfect and even number of rings.