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Tim Duncan Is Back With the Spurs, and Everything Makes Sense Again

The three-time Finals MVP has returned to San Antonio as Gregg Popovich’s new assistant coach. It’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

For the first time in more than three years, the basketball universe—or, I suppose, at least my basketball universe—makes sense again. Because Tim Duncan is back. Because Tim Duncan, per Shams Charania, is joining the Spurs as an assistant coach this upcoming season. And listen, I don’t know technically what he’ll be doing, but that’s OK. Because “Tim Duncan on the Spurs” isn’t a technical thing. It’s a spiritual thing. It’s a philosophical thing. It’s a transcendental thing. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. Here’s what kind of thing “Tim Duncan on the Spurs” is, and please know before you read this that fundamentally it is absolutely ridiculous, but also absolutely true:

Prior to our twin sons being born in 2007, my wife, Larami, decided she was going to breastfeed them. (This story will eventually make its way back to Tim Duncan, I assure you.) I’d read up on it and saw that it was a great idea for any number of reasons (Healthier baby! Healthier mom! etc.), so I was like, “Great. That’s a great idea. You should definitely do that. Great, great, great.” And so that’s what we plotted out. The boys were going to be born near the end of July and our little insta-family was going to be perfect and it was all going to be wonderful. And then things went sideways.

Because the boys were twins, and because Larami is a tiny person (5-foot-3), and because of continued complications with her uterus, she ended up needing to have a C-section to deliver the boys, nearly five weeks early. The doctors told us that not only were the boys going to have to spend some time in the neonatal intensive care unit, but that also it was going to be hard to breastfeed them because oftentimes a mother’s milk is delayed by (I guess) the trauma that a C-section puts on a body. And guess what. They were precisely right. The doctors knew what they were talking about.

Try as she might, Larami just couldn’t get her milk to come in. We met with a lactation consultant, and she tried every tip she could find on the internet about breastfeeding, and we talked to different doctors, and she used a breast pump every other hour to try to induce her milk to come in, and still: nothing. It was a total bummer. It was very discouraging. And I could tell after a while that it was starting to really bother her. (This makes it sound like I’m a smarter and more astute husband than I actually am. My being able to “tell it was starting to really bother her” was actually just my noticing that she was crying one day, asking her what was wrong, and then hearing her say, “I’m sad that I haven’t been able to breastfeed.” At any rate …)

I could tell that it was starting to really bother her, so I tried to think of a way to cheer her up. I thought, and I thought, and I thought, and then I had (what I assumed was) a brilliant idea. I waited for her to leave the hospital room for a few minutes one afternoon, and as soon as she did I got up, walked over to this big dry-erase whiteboard that was on one of the walls in the room that the nurses would keep notes on, and I wrote the following:

“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.” —Jacob Riis

That’s called the Stonecutter’s Credo, and the only reason I knew about it was because many years ago it became a mission statement of sorts for the Spurs. (It’s so wrapped up in the Spurs mythology, in fact, that the best Spurs site on the internet—Pounding the Rock—is a full-on hat-tip toward it.) It was the first thing I thought about when I replayed the trouble Larami was having with breastfeeding. It just made sense to me. I figured, same as the stonecutter, she was going to have to try to breastfeed a hundred times without so much as a drip coming, knowing that when it finally did happen, it wasn’t going to be because of that final attempt, but because of all the ones before it. And, I mean, as I’m typing this out right now I can see how dumb an idea it was on my part to think that a Spurs quote was going to make things better, but at the time I thought it was really clever and good and applicable.

So I wrote it on that board and then sat down and waited for her to come back to the room and see it and be so inspired that … I don’t know. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe I thought she would be so inspired that there’d be an endless stream of breast milk, not just from her but also from me and anyone else who happened to be in the room at that moment. But that’s not what happened, though. It’s super not what happened.

Instead, she walked in, got in the hospital bed, laid down, looked up, saw the quote, then asked what it was. I explained to her that it was the motto of the Spurs and that it had, to that point, delivered the team three NBA championships already so maybe it could help her with the breastfeeding. To which she replied something along the lines of, “This isn’t basketball and my breasts aren’t Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. We’re talking about me being able to feed our children.” And that was that.

And I’m not telling you this story right now because I want to tell you something with a bad ending. In fact, I don’t care about the ending at all. (For the record, though, the story has a happy ending. Through force of will and dedication, Larami was able to make her body eventually produce milk, and she breastfed the twins for a strong 15 months.) I’m telling you this story as a way to talk about the kind of galactic effect that Tim Duncan can have on not just a basketball team, but on pretty much anybody who’s ever rooted for him.

Tim Duncan is, at worst, one of the eight best basketball players in the history of all things. He’s a planet. He’s a force. Having him on your side inspires confidence. Tim Duncan working as an assistant coach for the Spurs doesn’t instantly make them better in an X’s-and-O’s sense, but it definitely makes them better in an ethereal sense, which will eventually make them better in an X’s-and-O’s sense. That’s the kind of presence he has, and the kind of effect he has on everything around him. He was so cosmically and obviously gifted that just believing that you and him are aligned in any kind of capacity makes you feel like you can accomplish things that maybe you couldn’t have otherwise. Foolhardy as it may have been, and ill-placed as it may have been, I honestly felt more confident about everything Larami and I were going through when I wrote that quote up on that dry-erase board. I have to assume a similar kind of feeling is going to pump through Dejounte Murray’s chest or LaMarcus Aldridge’s chest or DeMar DeRozan’s chest to know that Tim Duncan, in this new form, is going to be there with them.

Tim Duncan is back.

Let’s fucking go.