Tim Duncan gets it, Kobe Bryant not so much

The San Antonio Spurs announced that the team has extended the contract of Tim Duncan, ensuring that one of the best power forwards of all-time will remain a Spur until the end of the 2011-2012 NBA season. Duncan, who is 31 years old, will effectively retire as a Spur, given that he will be 36 years old when the contract expires.

But, it is not the length of the contract, but the total amount – which incidentally was revealed through the San Antonio Express-News – that caught our attention. According to the local paper, Duncan’s new deal will be worth about $40 million, and is structured in such a way that it will allow the Spurs to go after a big ticket free agent, or two, following the 2009-2010 season. In fact, Duncan, who was eligible for a max extension of $51 million under the collective bargaining agreement, chose to forego those approximately $11 million so that his team could bring in talented teammates, ensuring sustained excellence for the San Antonio Spurs.

In today’s NBA, where superstars asking for trades is a daily occurrence and team loyalty has gone the way of the buffalo, Duncan’s humility and clear understanding of the big picture – that winning is all that should really matter – is refreshing. Duncan clearly realizes that his individual legacy is closely tied to the team’s success, and he is willing to make the necessary sacrifices. This exact point is something that’s lost on players like Kobe Bryant, for example, who has held Lakers management hostage in his often schizophrenic bid to be traded out of Los Angeles.

Kobe seems to have a singular vision, to go down as the greatest player to ever suit up in the NBA. From his 81 point performance to his trade demands, everything Kobe does is predicated on being remembered as the guy who knocked Michael Jordan off the NBA throne. Like Duncan, Kobe also realizes that, despite the stellar individual resume, team success is the key to achieving that perch atop the NBA heap. Unfortunately, Kobe, unlike Duncan, is not willing to make the sacrifices, and hardly ever steps back to take a look at the big picture.

If their paths continue to diverge as they have over the last few seasons, when they finally retire, Duncan may be remembered as an all-time great champion in the mold of Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, and Jordan, while Kobe’s legacy may be nothing more than just another supreme talent that never learned to play nice with the other kids in the sandbox. Now, that fate would be devastating for Kobe’s massive ego.

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