In Praise Of Tim Duncan And Boring Plodders

Tim Duncan was, arguably, one of the most boring players to watch in the NBA. His dunks weren’t flashy, he rarely let out a primal scream after sending a shot into the stands, and he wasn’t an aggressive trash talker, like Draymond “I promise that kick to the groin was an accident” Green. He never went raging into the stands like Ron Artest/Metta World Peace (who wins the award for most laughable legal name change in world history).

His nicknames were “The Big Fundamental” and “Old Man Duncan” for crying out loud.

And remember, the first decade of Duncan’s career was during the heyday of NBA flash. Players like Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter dazzled with their anti-gravity dunks, and big personalities like Stephon Marbury and Gilbert Arenas dominated headlines (sometimes for very weird reasons).

And yet McGrady and Marbury and Arenas just kind of faded away. Vince Carter is still playing, but I don’t think anyone would suggest that he makes much of an impact on the court, and he certainly won’t be remembered as much more than an incredible dunk artist (some will certainly disagree with this). And Kobe Bryant’s year-long retirement tour last year was like watching a car disintegrate as it drove down the road.

Tim Duncan was a boring, plodding player, who will go down as one of the GREATEST OF ALL TIME.

Even at the end of his 19 year career, he could still be relied upon for 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. 

Duncan’s boringness is what makes him so admirable. In our age of social media followers and headline whores and LeBron announcing his move to Miami on NATIONAL FREAKING TELEVISION, Duncan has been refreshingly plain. He went out every night, he got the job done, and in the process, he won 5 championships.

I so admire Duncan for his commitment to plodding excellence. Now that his career is over, he is receiving the praise and attention he rightly deserves. Everyone is applauding Old Man Duncan.

And as I reflect on this, I can’t help but draw at least a few parallels to the Christian life (I’m a blogger, which means I have to turn everything into a life lesson).

Social media has convinced us that attention is everything. If we do a good deed and don’t get any likes, did that good deed even happen? If I share the gospel and don’t show the video on Facebook, does it even matter? It’s sad, really, and I’m just as guilty as everyone else.

And we tend to idolize those who have the biggest platforms. The biggest churches, best conference spots, most downloaded podcasts. We follow them on Twitter and treat their words as sacrosanct. Sometimes we even try to imitate them and build platforms of our own.

But there have been a whole lot of platforms falling in recent years. Pastors who built great movements and headlined conferences and then fell apart.

So maybe the Christian life isn’t supposed to be big and flashy and Stephon Marbury-ish. Maybe the Christian life is primarily boring and plodding. We raise our kids, go to church, serve on the worship team, practice hospitality, pray in secret. Nobody sees these things. We live in the mundane moments. We simply do what we’re commanded, without fuss or pomp or likes.

And then, at the end, we receive our commendation from the Lord himself. We give up being praised now in order to receive the praise that matters infinitely more. We hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

This is the paradox of the kingdom of God. The least are the greatest, the ones who receive the least praise now receive the most praise then. We boringly plod along, pursuing obedience year after year, quietly fulfilling our call. And when all is said and done, we enter into the joy of our master.

In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis portrays a surprising heavenly parade:

First came bright Spirits, not the Spirits of men, who danced and scattered flowers. Then, on the left and right, at each side of the forest avenue, came youthful shapes, boys upon one hand, and girls upon the other. If I could remember their singing and write down the notes, no man who read that score would ever grow sick or old. Between them went musicians: and after these a lady in whose honour all this was being done.

I cannot now remember whether she was naked or clothed. If she were naked, then it must have been the almost visible penumbra of her courtesy and joy which produces in my memory the illusion of a great and shining train that followed her across the happy grass. If she were clothed, then the illusion of nakedness is doubtless due to the clarity with which her inmost spirit shone through the clothes. For clothes in that country are not a disguise: the spiritual body lives along each thread and turns them into living organs. A robe or a crown is there as much one of the wearer’s features as a lip or an eye.

But I have forgotten. And only partly do I remember the unbearable beauty of her face.

“Is it?…is it?” I whispered to my guide.

“Not at all,” said he. “It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.”
“She seems to be…well, a person of particular importance?”
“Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.”
Thank you Mr. Fundamental for teaching me that fame in that country and on Earth are two quite different things.