Tim Duncan has the crazy eyes. You know the kind. The cross-to-walk-on-the-other-side-of-the-street, here-comes-that-guy eyes. They’re open too wide. They’re too alert. They seek too much. What’s next? they perpetually ask, ready for anything, taking nothing for granted. Highly accomplished professionals, especially nimble ones the size of small trees, don’t often look this way. Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t. Shaq–Duncan’s former nemesis in the West–was relaxed. Duncan is the opposite. Duncan is wary, knowing something might be coming from beside or behind him. That something, he knows, is time. His eyes dart. They dare and defy it. Try something, his eyes say, I’m ready. And they are. He is. Time seems to notice, too.
You’d need to go back to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to find such a contained nervous energy in a giant man with a fist full of championship rings. Abdul-Jabbar always looked around warily too, knowing something was next. Was it a racist, a fire, another fan who wanted to connect with him through his Berlin wall of privacy? Whatever else, it keeps one young, this staying vigilant. Abdul-Jabbar played longer and scored more points than any other star. Today the circumspect Duncan looks like he was just drafted, gamboling down the floor for dunks and blocks, diving to the floor for loose balls at age 38–as the redoubtable, virtually tattooless, “old school” San Antonio Spurs dig their pointed heels into the fallacy that there is some new way to play basketball–that it’s a high-flying secret, like a stealth bomber. There isn’t. You just need to see everything, to be ready, and have a desire deeper than that canyon in Arizona–same winning formula as always.