One of the greatest players of all time was discovered via a pleasantry.
It was the summer of 1992, and Wake Forest graduate Chris King was visiting the Virgin Islands with a group of NBA Draft picks on an exhibition tour. When he returned to Winston-Salem and stopped by the basketball offices, coach Dave Odom inquired about his trip.
“You didn’t see anybody we ought to be interested in?” Odom asked. King said there was one kid. Tall. Thin. Maybe 6-9 and 190 pounds. Had good hands, good feet. King didn’t know his name.
Odom asked his staff if they knew anyone in the Virgin Islands. Assistant coach Larry Davis did, and he soon had a number and a name: Tim Duncan.
On Saturday, that kid from St. Croix will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a two-time consensus All-American, college basketball’s national player of the year, five-time NBA champion, two-time MVP and 15-time All-Star.
The journey began with Odom heading to the Virgin Islands to see if King had found a hidden gem.
Dave Odom, head coach: Sunday was the day that all of the island kind of converges on this one court. He goes out and shoots around a little bit and I watched. All of a sudden you hear this horn, this fog horn. Rerrrr, rerrrr! He’s sitting next to me now, and I said, “What was that noise?” He said, “That was Hess Oil. They let out Sundays around 3 o’clock; we won’t start playing until they get here.” A lot of the kids coming out there are young adults, and they probably were some of the best players, and they couldn’t wait to get down there. They had heard the coach is coming.
They go out and warm up, and next thing I know, Tim comes and sits next to me. I said, “Tim, what are you doing? I came all this way to see you.” He said, “Coach, if I go out there now, they’ll put me on the worst team. We may not win. If we don’t, I’ll be sitting out for over an hour. If I wait and get winners, then I can pick a better team and I’ll have a better chance of winning, and you’ll have a better chance of seeing me play.” That’s what happened. Exactly what happened.
He’s only 16 at the time. That to me showed a sense of awareness for others. Me being the others. A lot of the domestic kids — kids here in New York or Washington or Philly — they would have jumped right out there and got their tails handed to them, and here I was seeing nothing. But that showed that he had a sense for purpose.