Duncan as an Olympic Bird

LONDON – Tim Duncan would have helped the 2012 U.S. basketball team. But that’s not why he should be in London these next few weeks with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.

Duncan deserved a do-over. He deserved better teammates, and a better Olympic memory.

Yes, he deserved a better result, too.

Duncan never considered signing up again. When he left Athens in 2004, it was for good.

He had never planned on 2004, either. Had his knee not required surgery in the summer of 2000, he would have gone to Sydney, won gold and been done with the Olympics forever.

Duncan came back for Athens, as well as for qualifying the summer before, and others didn’t. If Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett had joined him in Greece, the U.S. team would have won.

Instead, Duncan drew a group that didn’t impress then, and impresses less in hindsight. Allen Iverson has since gone bankrupt, Stephon Marbury to China, Lamar Odom to the Kardashians.

As for the small forward who the USA staff leaned on then: If the Spurs couldn’t count on Richard Jefferson, how could a nation?

Duncan’s jersey number, 13, summed up his karma. And he acted as cursed, walking through the mixed zone after games with headphones on, ignoring the clamor around him.

What followed was the worst American showing in the Olympics in the NBA international era. And what teammates didn’t do to Duncan, officials did. He was called for 30 fouls in eight Olympic games, which gave way to his parting words in Athens.

Then, after saying his international career was “95 per cent” finished, he added, “FIBA sucks.”

Announcing “Federation Internationale de Basketball sucks” wouldn’t have had the same ring.

Duncan’s image took a beating then, though the 2005 title erased most of that. Jerry Colangelo continued to offer him a spot in the revamped program, because Duncan was still among the top three in the game then, but Duncan never wavered.

Duncan figured he was past this part of his life and, besides, he had done his duty. He played on seven various international teams, and four of his teams went undefeated.

As for the idea that his resume is incomplete without a gold medal: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Walton managed to survive without one, too.

As the years went on, his inclusion made less and less sense. Now, at his age and with his knee, the last thing the Spurs want to see Duncan do is bang against the Gasol brothers in the summer.

But Larry Bird was in far worse shape as part of the Dream Team in 1992, and he treasures that time. Furthermore, just as Duncan doesn’t have to carry the Spurs anymore, he wouldn’t have to carry his country.

He could have played spot minutes, and here’s the kicker: The U.S. could use a smart, effective big man.

So Duncan deserved something better than spending another summer at the Spurs’ practice facility, and who knows?

Maybe he would have liked London, too.

Leave a Reply