SAN ANTONIO — And to think, Tim Duncan was a couple of ping-pong ball combinations from being a Celtic 17 years ago and remains one of the NBA’s most productive forwards.
When you’re 38, have won four NBA titles, and are entering the final year of your contract, retirement is going to be a constant topic of conversation. But it appears Duncan isn’t going anywhere, at least after this season.
Duncan, who took a step toward his first championship since 2007 by virtue of the Spurs’ 110-95 win over the Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, isn’t thinking about anything other than Miami.
“I’ve not come to that point yet,’’ said Duncan, who had a team-high 21 points. “I don’t know when I’m going to retire, I don’t know what the factors are going to be. I don’t know any of that and I don’t care about any of that stuff right in now. I’m not thinking about that in that respect. It will happen when it happens. I’ll feel it and I’ll know it and I’ll call it a day.”
There was speculation Duncan would retire following the 2011-12 season, when the Spurs lost in the Western Conference finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Instead, he signed a three-year contract extension that he fully intends to honor.
On several occasions, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich has had the difficult job of telling a veteran player he has nothing left. That conversation may never occur with Duncan, but he has considered life without the big man.
“What has he done? Well, first of all, you know, he’s a great professional, and in any endeavor if someone is professional, one does what’s necessary to maintain,” Popovich said. “He feels a responsibility to his teammates. He enjoys them. He wants to hang around as long as he can while he’s being . . . while he’s useful and while he’s having an impact on the game. He takes care of his body; he works out all summer long with a variety of different things, boxing, swimming. He’s very careful about what he puts in his body, so he does everything he can to, you know, maintain a level of play.
“[But] at some point that will stop. It will probably be the third quarter of some game on the road some year, and he’ll feel like he’s not as significant and he’ll walk into the locker room.”
Duncan said his relationship with Popovich has been enhanced by both men’s brutal honesty. Before a 2012 game, Popovich listed Duncan as out because of being “old.” And during Game 4 of this year’s Western Conference finals, Duncan snapped back at his coach after Popovich jumped him following a missed assignment.
“I think it helps both of us that we can both say what we mean and neither one of us takes it personally,” Duncan said. “That makes a work environment which you’re not hiding anything from him, he’s not hiding anything from you. So it helps both of us.”
Legacy can wait
LeBron James reiterated his statements from Wednesday that talk of his legacy when he is only 29 and in the middle of a brilliant career is “stupid.” While James said he appreciated being compared to the game’s all-time greats, he doesn’t understand why observers are trying to determine his legacy at such an early stage.
“Guys are still trying to define what they want to accomplish in their career to talk about it right now,’’ said James. “Let guys play out their years, play the way they want to play out on the floor. For me, a legacy isn’t just basketball. I think people get caught up in what you do on the floor, and just try to define your legacy on how you play the sport. I think my calling is much bigger than just basketball, so to say what my legacy is on the floor and say that’s all it is, I think it’s stupid.”
Parker steps up
Tony Parker said his left ankle is not 100 percent but he was in the starting lineup and played 37 minutes in Game 1, providing 19 points and eight assists. Parker sat out the second half and overtime of the Spurs’ clincher against the Thunder with ankle soreness . . . In his first NBA Finals after several difficult, injury-plagued seasons, Greg Oden did not get off the bench for the Heat . . . Veteran NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff received the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award before the game. Bickerstaff coached the SuperSonics, Nuggets, Bullets, and Bobcats, amassing 419 victories.Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.