KG, Duncan, Kobe: The Passing of the NBA Torch

The Crazy and wonderful moment about Sports is the torch being passed; A dawn of a new era because the dusk has settled on the careers of certain athletes. Celebrating the athletes who are at the end of the road and their accomplishments and remembering who they once were. A move that they did with ease, in their sleep becomes obsolete.

The NBA lost three heavyweights to the game this past offseason. While we know Father Time is undefeated I want to cover some of my favorite moments for Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant. When starting out you had two high school phenoms and a swimmer from the Virgin Islands who picked up basketball at a later age.  The three would become the faces of the league after what many considered the league’s golden years of basketball (1990’s).  The league at that time had a plethora of talent that couldn’t win a ring because of a dominant guard that goes by the alter ego “His Airness.” There were other names that was prominent in the 2000’s such as the two First-Ballot Hall of Famers in Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson. But to the age group of fans who are five years behind me as a 31-year-old man are the three names mentioned earlier are who fans wanted to mirror themselves after once they stepped foot on the hardwood. Let’s reflect on those three in this article with some of my personal favorite moments.

Kevin Garnett was the type of guy that once he played for the team that fans root for, his energy was contagious, very passionate and he always left his emotions on his sleeve. In every meaning of the phrase “A Team first individual.” On the other side, you found him annoying, pesky and a willing trash talker, but you respected the talent he possessed. A guy who played multiple positions in the front court; Garnett was able hit the midrange jumper with ease.  He was also a pick and pop player that hit that jumper 45% of the time in the playoffs as a member of the Boston Celtics.

As a fan of a team the Celtics played against all of the time, you knew that Garnett’s shots were going in when he got in range.  Garnett was also great at switching defenders which allowed the teams he played on to be tough on that side of the ball. Garnett lead the Minnesota Timberwolves to their first Western Conference Finals in franchise history against a talented Los Angeles Lakers team. Garnett put that team on his back that 2003-2004 season; averaging 24 PPG, 13.9 RPG and he was 2nd on the team in assists.

He just ran into a powerhouse that year against the Lakers with Shaq, Kobe and even in their older years Karl Malone and Gary Payton. That series was the last time that Minnesota saw playoff basketball. That earned my respect from Garnett with the talent he had as teammates and was able to push them that far.

He would eventually get traded to the Celtics in 2007.  Garnett was okay with staying in Minnesota but their management knew he deserved another shot at a title run. Boston really got up and running with him and Ray Allen joining a Paul Pierce led team. His interview after winning his first title screaming “Anythings Possible!”and the one that stuck with me for years is “This one is for Minny!” The fact that he never forgot about Minnesota spoke volumes to me. I might not like his antics on the court as a spectator but the respect I have for him as a player is out the roof. I would like to see KG in an assistant coach role somewhere because he exemplifies the passion for the game and has a lot to offer to younger players of the game.

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Imagine hearing this, Tim Duncan the Olympian swimmer from the Virgin Islands is going for gold. Fast forward to today, Tim Duncan who is a five time NBA champion, 15 time NBA All-Star and 1997-1998 Rookie of the Year. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo swept away part of their home and damaged the swimming pool that Duncan was training in, he made the transition to playing basketball as a hobby and it turned it into a scholarship at Wake Forest. This was one of top teenage swimmers, going to Puerto Rico, Cuba and New York.   Duncan could have gone that route easily and now with his career ending in Basketball it could be argued that he’s the best power forward to ever play the game.

Duncan’s career averages were 19 PPG, 10.8 RPG and he shot 50% from the field. To let the San Antonio Spurs fans know he was almost in a Orlando Magic Uniform but thanks to David Robinson and others Duncan declined the Magic’s offer.  I would have loved to see him in blue and white, but that’s me walking down fantasy lane wishing the parallel universes would have collided to even see a glimpse of that.

Tim Duncan, the NBA player, was one that the hardcore fans truly appreciated because of the methodical ways he played the game. The 15-foot bank shot was a Duncan staple and rolling to the basket with an array of post moves was in his arsenal. While he was not the uber athletic post player one would see, he had flashes where he would throw down some powerful dunks.

Tim Duncan was one great post defender by staying vertical and being mobile enough to put himself in situations to play team defense. Duncan may have not had the flair and flash to appeal to the casual fan and that was also aided by the fact that he wasn’t not much of a talker in the media, but teammates and coaches would be the first to point out how Tim is different behind scenes.  My personal favorite moment is how well he bounced back from failure.

During Game 6 of the 2014 NBA Finals Tim Duncan had the ball in his hands and his move that is straight up clockwork the running hook about 12-15 feet away from the basket.  He missed the shot and he went to the other end of the court and both hands slap the hardwood in frustration, he knew they blew that.  The following season was the Spurs revenge tour revenge tour as they went on to win 62 games and earned their rematch with the then two-time defending NBA Champion Miami Heat.  The Spurs would eventually come together as a team to defeat a weary Heat team in five games.

This past year in the playoffs, Duncan just looked like Father Time got to him.  During the Western Conference Semi Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Duncan was held to 0 points in 12 minutes played.  He was able to haul 3 rebounds but that night the entire team was ineffective as the Thunder defeated the Spurs 111-97.  Duncan and the Spurs were worn and many speculated that we could be seeing Duncan for perhaps the final time.  The end would come during Game 6 of the series.  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich played Duncan the entire fourth quarter and stood up the majority of the period looking-glass and teary eyed.  At the conclusion of the 113-99 loss Duncan indicated that he didn’t know at the time if it was indeed the end.

“I’ll get to that after I get out of here,” Duncan said. “Figure life out.”

Sadly it was the last time that we would see Tim Duncan on the court.  I’m sure he has a job somewhere with the Spurs if he wants it but I have no clue what’s next for Tim, I’m willing to bet it’s an under the scene job like a scout.

Kobe Bryant is the one out of this group that many fans either love or hate.  The work he put in to become the player he was can’t be overlooked because he deserves all the accolades that came his way. His start to the NBA was getting drafted to a team that didn’t want him, Charlotte Hornets Head Coach at the time, Dave Cowens told him they already have a plethora of guards and wings and they didn’t need him there. Multiple stories were going around that he would play for the Los Angeles Lakers.  Lakers center Vlade Divac didn’t want to leave the Lakers but he agreed to be traded to the Hornets in exchange for Bryant.

The Lower Marion High School phenom knew he had to work harder than he had before and going to the storied franchise.   Expectations grew when free agent Shaquille O’Neal signed with the Lakers departing the Orlando Magic which he dubbed as a “Dried up little pond”.  Bryant was an integral part of that team and helped lead them to a three peat during the early 2000’s which included the 02-03 playoffs where he averaged 32 PPG on 43% shooting.  Bryant and Shaq who refused to co-exist and put aside their issues could have dominated that decade with more than the three titles they earned.

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I don’t have many Kobe Bryant favorite moments, but I did admire the Black Mamba’s fight in the 2006-2007 season.  The team won 42 wins and he was the man in that series they played against the powerhouse  Phoenix Suns.  Outside of Lamar Odom, Bryant had Kwane Brown and Smush Parker as teammates, Kobe still displayed that he had a lot left in the tank and the Lakers needed to upgraded the roster for a chance to make another title run. They acquired Pau Gasol via trade with the Grizzlies and went to the finals three years in the row and finishing with two more tiles.

Kobe has had a lot trials and tribulations and I’m certain he has more people rooting against him than for him. I also thought it was bit over the top for his farewell tour. But he will go down as one the best players to play the game and he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer. The future I vision for Kobe is commentating, he’s very articulate and knows so much about the game.

I don’t have a certain player these players should pass the torch too because these are some big shoes to fill. As these players did, I’m sure they will have to find their own niche to pave in the NBA. I’m sure Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Chris Paul and Paul George just to name a few are a good landscape to start with.  There’s probably a name that I didn’t mention that could be the next best thing.  We may have the faces in the mind who should get this torch or we visually don’t see that athlete yet but remember everyday a Star is Born.

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