Dave Boling: Duncan’s game had to evolve, and so too will LeBron’s

dave.boling@thenewstribune.comJune 5, 2014 

Be aware that when LeBron James talks about Father Time, he’s not referencing Tim Duncan.

Not specifically, at least. But as James takes on Duncan for the third time in an NBA Finals, he sees the 38-year-old Duncan’s remarkable career as a blueprint for the successful evolution of a pro basketball star.

When James leads the Miami Heat into the Finals against Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs on Thursday, he’ll look for the Heat’s third consecutive championship, while Duncan shoots for his fifth title in 17 years with the Spurs.

At his news conference Wednesday in San Antonio, James recalled that he was entering the ninth grade when Duncan won his first NBA title with the Spurs, in 1999, as the big man easing into the role David Robinson previously filled.

“That’s when I really started to get serious (about basketball),” James said. “I think it’s great when you watch somebody celebrate a championship, you hope that you can someday put yourself in his shoes.”

And now they battle in the

Finals for a third time — each having won once.

While Duncan has naturally shown some effects of time, he’s still playing a game closer to that of his prime than almost any aging star. His career was built on technique and fundamentals, which don’t wear with age as does the game of those relying on springy legs and raw athleticism.

Duncan, then, can still be effective with the timely drop-step spin to the hoop and the indefensible short, fall-away bank shot. And he always has played with a subtle, controlled fire.

“He’s one of the greatest to ever play our game,” James said. “He’s still playing at one of the highest levels of any guy to play this long. To keep his franchise relevant for over 15 years is amazing. To see what he does on the floor every night, year after year … lets you know what type of person he is, what kind of player he is and what kind of passion he has.”

As seems to be the case whenever James makes it to the Finals, he’s asked how the outcome will affect his professional legacy. Has anyone under 30 years of age ever been asked more about his legacy?

“My legacy will speak for itself after I’m done playing the game of basketball,” James said, clearly weary of the topic.

If not willing to look ahead, he did look back and remark on how he responded after the Heat lost the Finals to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011.

“I think more than as a player, I just grew as a man,” James said. “I have a beautiful family. I’m a father of two. I grew more as a man, and I think that helped my game. I understood I needed to get better.”

This series will be more than a rematch between Duncan and James, of course, but the two were critical in the outcome of the series last year, too.

In Game 6, Duncan played as if in his prime, scoring 25 points in the first half to set up the Spurs to take the title.

They had a three-point lead with five seconds remaining in regulation when Heat guard Ray Allen, the former Seattle SuperSonics star, nailed a corner 3-pointer to tie the score.

Having been just seconds from grasping the trophy, the Spurs faded in overtime and then lost Game 7.

James was named the Finals MVP for the second consecutive year.

Duncan and the Spurs bounced back this season to win 62 games in the regular season and earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

James sees the ways Duncan’s game has changed and knows he will have to adapt over time, too.

“I’ve changed my game since I got to Miami, and I will change it again,” he said. “With me being high-flying and doing the things I’m able to do at 29, maybe at 36, I won’t be able to do that. I will have to change my game again if I want to continue to be helpful to a team.”

Really? Even LeBron James has to think that way?

“You have to,” he said. “Father Time is undefeated.”

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com @DaveBoling

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