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LOS ANGELES (AFP) – The San Antonio Spurs’ 113-100 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans was just the curtain-raiser Sunday to the team’s heart-tugging ceremony honoring retired superstar Tim Duncan.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 22 points in 26 minutes on the floor, and Manu Ginobili added a season-high 17 points for the Spurs, who notched their fourth win on the trot.
But the big number of the night was 21 – Duncan’s jersey number which was retired by the club after the game.
Spurs players sported “21” on their socks in honor of Duncan, who led the Spurs to five NBA championships in 19 campaigns before announcing his retirement prior to this season.
The Spurs’ .710 winning percentage during Duncan’s tenure was the best 19-year stretch in NBA history and was the best in all of the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB over that time.
Duncan was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player three times and regular season MVP twice.
The Spurs reached the playoffs every season since Duncan arrived in San Antonio, and he is the only player in NBA history to start and win a title in three different decades.
Duncan made the All-NBA, All-Star and All-Defensive teams 15 times each during his career and he is one of three players in NBA history to reach 1,000 career wins, as well as the only player to reach 1,000 wins with one team.
Duncan and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich won 1,001 games together, the most ever by a player-coach duo.
So it wasn’t surprising that the most emotional moment of the night was Duncan’s heartfelt thanks to Popovich “for being more than a coach – for being like a father to me”.
Duncan, hailed before the game by Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry as “the best power forward that ever played the game” and “probably the most low-maintenance superstar that ever played the game” became the eighth Spurs player to have his number retired.
A player who always preferred to let his game do the talking, Duncan was his usual quiet self during a post-game ceremony that gathered family members, Popovich and erstwhile teammates including Tony Parker and Ginobili – who teamed with Duncan in one of the most successful trios in NBA history.
“I did a lot of speeches in my life, but I’m very nervous in this one because I don’t want to mess it up,” Parker said, teasing a smile from Duncan as he described how intimidating he once found him.
“He’s the only player who never talks to me to get the ball, he just looks at me,” Parker said. “When you’re 19 years old coming from France that’s very scary – when he looks at you.”
But Parker learned to trust that look, and to trust a teammate whose concern off the court was even more valuable.
“Timmy was always the best, he always knew when to send me a text to pump me up – always helping me out through those 15 years,” Parker said. ”He wanted to win, but off the court he was the best, anything that happened in my life he was always there for me.”
Ginobili echoed Parker’s sentiments, thanking Duncan ”for your lessons, which you never tried to give but you did”.
“Thank you for your friendship,” Ginobili said.