Tim Duncan and the Art Of Everyday Fitness

Where were you in 1997? Seinfeld was the King of Comedy. People flocked to see Titanic, Men in Black, and Boogie Nights.

The world mourned the loss of Princess Diana. Bill Clinton was just embarking on his second term, and the Web was in its infancy. That was also the year that a lanky seven-foot former swimmer from the tiny island of Saint Croix first entered the NBA.

 By the time Tim Duncan retired last week, his accomplishments were legion:
  • Five time NBA Champion
  • Three-time Finals MVP.
  • Two-time regular season MVP.
  • 15 All-Star selections.
  • 15 All-NBA selections.
  • 15 All-Defensive selections — the most in NBA history
  • Rookie of the Year
  • And, he left an indelible mark on the NBA landscape.
Every one of these statements is true. Except for the last one. Given all of his accolades, one might wonder why. Don’t these accomplishments warrant his inclusion in any discussion of all-time NBA greats? Indeed, they do. (I have him ranked behind only Michael Jordan and Bill Russell, but that’s the subject for another article.)
Tim Duncan was consistently brilliant for two decades, putting up superior numbers and making his team, the San Antonio Spurs, synonymous with winning. In fact, during his tenure with the Spurs, his team won a greater percentage of games than any other major sports team of the era.
But he had one defining characteristic that kept him off many highlight reels: he was, for lack of a better word, boring. The knock on Duncan was that he wasn’t transcendent. He didn’t play above the rim like Michael Jordan, exhibit the astonishing athleticism of Allen Iverson, possess the court vision of Magic Johnson, or shoot like Steph Curry.
Little kids across the country never mimicked his left-handed bank shot. It just wasn’t that sexy. Indeed, for many fans, the athlete with the moniker of “The Big Fundamental” wasn’t much fun. But Duncan was just consistently good. Day-in and day-out. For twenty years. He was also a fantastic teammate, perhaps the unofficial leader in affectionate head-taps and “big-brother” embraces.
And for people trying to maintain a fitness regimen, you won’t find a better role model than Tim Duncan. If you can forgive the bastardization of a tired catch phrase, you should “Be Like Tim.”
Let me extend this metaphor to cycling. I’ve had many friends who’ve ridden the Death Ride, a 130-mile grind in the Sierras with 15,000 feet of climbing. I’ve also had friends complete the ALT ride, scaling the three highest peaks in the Bay Area (Mount Tam, Mount Diablo, and Mount Hamilton) all in one day using only public transportation and bikes to get them from destination to destination.
Both of these rides require incredible perseverance, fitness, and mental toughness. I’ve never done the former (I tend to avoid things with “Death” in the title) and, although I’ve scaled each of the aforementioned peaks individually, I’ve never combined them like the riders of the ALT ride.
The simple fact of the matter is that many of my friends are “better” cyclists than I am;  if one defines “better” as faster, or more capable of Herculean feats of endurance.
But here’s the thing: several of my friends (not all of them, to be sure) see their fitness fall off a cliff in the months following a major race. The arduous training and discipline is replaced by a few months of molding their butts to a couch.
Conversely, if my buddies call me for a ride, I’m usually good to go. I can go for a 50-miler in February. Or August. Or October. Once again, I definitely won’t be the fastest. Or the showiest. But I’ll get the job done. And I’ll have a blast doing it. Nothing evokes a good time more than scaling hills with my buddies, soaking in the sunshine and creating memories.
I cycle at least four times a week. Nothing too grandiose, but it keeps me in shape and clears my head. It’s my Zen. And the goals I have are fairly prosaic: my biggest goal is to be able to do a Century (100 mile) ride with my twin daughters when they’re eighteen and I’m 65.
I think that’s eminently possible. I’m patterning my fitness after Tim Duncan. Nothing too flashy. Just doing the mundane work every day that yields much greater returns in the long run.
Tim Duncan will be a shoo-in for the NBA Hall of Fame. And I’ll be fit enough to ride with my daughters when they get older.