A Fan’s Farewell to his Hero, Tim Duncan

“Look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” by Jacob Riis

The city of San Antonio is 298 years old, and some days, you can feel the heart and soul of this city speak to you as loud and clear as the sound of chisel meeting stone.

It’s a steady soul, steering its citizens at a blue-collar cadence, the rhythm of the stonecutter. Here, generations of people find quiet dignity in gritty, thankless jobs, priding themselves in a simpler life than those led by people in bigger metropolises. The soul of the city is stoically old school, taking shape in ancient architecture, like the Alamo, swelling in the sacred sounds of the Mariachi, satisfying tastebuds via the weekend-ritual: the breakfast taco.

The heart of the city, however, feels younger, freer, more vibrant. It’s a heart that beats to be heard, pulsing with blood that remains thirsty for competition. The heart of San Antonio isn’t content with the label of “second-rate city,” a rung below places like  New York City and Los Angeles. For proof of its heartbeat look at our Urban Renaissance: the Pearl Brewery, Southtown, and Five Points. San Antonio also has the heart of the stonecutter.

Perhaps these qualities seem contradictory, but they are quite complimentary, and their symbiosis is alluded to in Riis’s quote above.

While the quote emphasizes the steady soul the stonecutter needs, he also needs a life-source, a modicum that makes the soul tangible, pumping the passion necessary to keep chisel to rock even when he can not see the fruits of his labor.  Just like we can’t see the impact the chisel has on the rock from the surface; we can’t see that the pulsing heart of the stonecutter, the mechanism needed to set a steady soul on fire.

Which brings me to Tim Duncan.

In some ways, Tim Duncan was the perfect athlete to be tethered to this city. He has a steady, blue-collar soul that framed his body of work with a heart, burning for battle.

His heart demanded for him to be mentioned with the first-tier of NBA legends: Jordan, Russell, Magic, and Kareem. But his soul swallowed his ego, saving him from the beat-your-chest culture that engulfs today’s NBA. A heart and soul working in perfect harmony.

I don’t think Duncan or this city realized how closely we were welded together until the 2013 Finals.

In game 7, with less than a minute left, Duncan missed a running layup, and came back to play defense after he couldn’t secure the rebound, like he has countless times. But afterwards, he did something out of character. If there’s one thing I know from watching Duncan over the years is that he never wastes a single movement on the court. He knows the limitations of his body and his energy level, and he throttles between gears effortlessly to get the most out them. When he missed that layup, he came down on defense, slapped the floor and got into a defensive stance at the three-point line, frantically looking to stop anyone and everyone. Duncan never slaps the floor; he never gets into a defensive stance that close to the three-point line; and he never looks frantically for his defender.,

His face said it all, and then, in a moment of true vulnerability, he actually spoke about it afterward, stating, “Game 7 is always going to haunt me.” It was a rare time when Duncan would wear his heart on his sleeve, when his stoic soul couldn’t stymie what his heart yearned to say.

That series, for almost a year, would not just haunt Duncan. It would haunt all of San Antonio.

It was the first time I stopped believing in happy endings.

I can remember countless drives to work after that series, sitting at lights, my conscious slipping into the torturous terrain of “what if”. Inevitably, my thought process would go something like this: Man, I’m tired, and I really wish I wasn’t driving to work right now. This sucks. But it doesn’t suck as bad as losing to the Heat in the Finals. My whole life, I was taught that good guys can finish first, and hard work can pay off. In two games, my belief in that idea was shattered. What’s the point of going to work? It’s not like I can really change anything. Wow, this sucks. Let me drive off the closest bridge because nothing matters. Life is meaningless.

Finally and ironically in 2014, after an illustrious career, Tim Duncan came to a crossroads, the point on the x and y axis where the heart meets the soul. This dot on the axis: the origin of one’s legacy. In some ways, this city and its citizens came to that same crossroads with him.

You see, beating the Heat in the 2014 Finals was more than revenge. It validated a way of life. You can be successful, doing things the right way, sharing as a team, quietly, humbly. You don’t need to be the most skilled or most talented person to win. Grit and intelligence can prevail.

You don’t need to live in a ritzy, glitzy city to lead a life that matters or to have dignity. A blue-collar mentality with a passion for the work is enough.

Once again, I believed in happy endings.

Now on hard days, while driving to work, when I think about going back to bed instead of going into the classroom, I remember the 2014 championship and think: I’ve got to keep pounding the rock. And I’m healed.

The first time I saw Tim Duncan put on a Spurs uniform, I was 12 years old. I’m 32 now. Tim Duncan pounded the rock through my adolescence, my college years, hundreds of heartbreaks and triumphs, thousands of hellos and goodbyes, my wedding day, my adulthood.

Our lives are marked by milestones: marriage, moving, promotions, family additions, family subtractions, the once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But most years pass by fairly inconsequentially. That doesn’t mean that exceptional living didn’t happen; it just means if it weren’t for birthdays or New Year’s Day, we might never reflect and celebrate the day-in day-out accomplishments we achieve. Tim Duncan’s career was a lot like real life. Every time he stood on the court, he was doing something exceptional, something worth celebrating, but if the Spurs didn’t win a championship, it often went unnoticed by the media and those outside of San Antonio.

Tim Duncan personified how to live the right way. Trust in others, plan for the future, always try to improve, and above all, keep pounding the rock. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to call in sick, quit halfway through a workout, or grab takeout instead of cooking. But in those moments, I’d think of Tim Duncan planting his one good leg in the post no matter the score, and I’d say to myself, “Keep pounding the rock.”

And I’d persevere.

On July 11, 2016, Tim Duncan announced he wouldn’t keep pounding the rock because he couldn’t do it anymore.  After 19 seasons, 1,643 games, and five championships, his “good knee” finally cracked from the pounding it took. What happens to the stonecutter when his body faces the same fate as the stone he cut?  Something in me broke too, or at the very least, gave a little. For the first time since I was 12 years old, I’m going to have to figure out how to keep pounding the rock by myself. Tim Duncan won’t be there to show me anymore.

I’m pairing Tim Duncan’s legendary career with Midas Touch brewed by Dogfish Brewing Co. This hybrid beer was brewed with barley, grapes, honey, and saffron. Hops had not been widely cultivated at the time, so saffron was used as the bittering agent. The recipe comes from ingredients found in the drinking vessels from what some historians believe to be King Midas’s tomb. That’s right, the King with the “Golden Touch.” The drinking vessels are around 2,7000 years old. After the King’s death, his life and reign were celebrated by his subjects, with the remaining alcohol and food buried with his body to provide him sustenance in the afterlife. Biomolecular archaeologist, Dr. Patrick McGovern, was able to study the remnants and recreate the brew. The color is championship gold with a slight reddish hue from the saffron. The smell is of honey with light grass notes. The taste is a balance between honey and grapes, with the honey lingering on the taste buds, coating the palate. The mouthfeel, rich and velvety, carries the decadence necessary to honor royalty. What better way to celebrate a living legend than with beer made for larger-than-life royalty?

For more information on this beer visit: http://www.penn.museum/sites/biomoleculararchaeology/?page_id=143

For 19 years Tim Duncan personified the fiery heart and steady soul of San Antonio. When he beat teams from cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Miami on his way to titles, he didn’t just deliver championships. He gave us an identity. Finally, our “small town” with a tiny airport and only one major sports franchise belonged at the table with the major cities of this country. He made all of us champions. And he gave at least one boy from San Antonio, Texas, a reason to hold his head high and the blueprint for how to live life the right way.

I’ll never win a championship, and I’ll never be able to thank Tim Duncan enough for what he’s given me or for what he’s given this city, but if I can be the example for at least one other person to keep “pounding the rock,” that’s enough legacy for me.

And maybe, Tim Duncan could accept that as a token of my infinite gratitude.

Beer post 3.jpgCheers. Prost. Salud.

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