When Michael Jordan retired in 1998, the main question around the league was who was going to be the next face of the NBA. A lot of intriguing young stars were in the running, but nobody saw the quiet kid in San Antonio becoming such a household name over the next 15+ years. One of the rare people to see Tim Duncan's potential was MJ.
"The Big Fundamental"
Far from flashy in any sense of the word, on and off the court, Tim Duncan's career path was unique and all about winning basketball. Spending his entire 19-year career in San Antonio, Duncan would become a Spurs legend and be regarded as quite possibly the best power forward of all time. I mean, just look at the accolades:
5x NBA Champion
3x Finals MVP
Obviously, everybody expected Duncan to be a great player considering he was the #1 pick, but nobody expected his ceiling to be that high at the time. But an impressive rookie campaign in 1997-19978, in which he averaged 21.1 ppg and 11.9 rpg, caught the attention of the iconic Michael Jordan.
MJ had just retired for the second time after TD's rookie season, and he was asked about the future of the NBA and who could take over it. After mentioning some apparent choices like Kobe Bryant, Grant Hill, and Shaquille O'Neal, MJ brought in Duncan's name:
"We got a lot of talented players...You can go with Duncan. Don't sleep on Tim Duncan. I would think he is probably the most fundamental all-around big man."
Michael Jordan, Essentially Sports
Jordan's prediction would be spot on, as Duncan got nicknamed "The Big Fundamental" because of his all-around skill set at the big men position, playing the game exactly how it's meant to be played. Although Kobe and Shaq became bigger superstars and great players, Duncan's career and legacy is right up there with them.
Interestingly enough, Duncan wasn't that impressed with Jordan himself but rather respectful about the GOAT and his presence. If Ray Allen hadn't hit that miraculous shot in the 2013 Finals, Tim would have been precisely 6-0 in the Finals, just like Jordan. Maybe that would have prompted Duncan even into the GOAT discussion, but even without that ring, he is still regarded as one of the best to ever do it.