Tim Duncan had quite a few nicknames in his career including the Big Fundamental, Stone Buddha, Groundhog Day and Old Man Riverwalk. People were always trying to assign him a nickname but his lack of flash made it hard. The Big Fundamental, a name given by Shaquille O’Neal, has stuck with Duncan the best of all of them.
Why was Tim Duncan Nicknamed the Big Fundamental?
Tim Duncan was the rarest of players who dominated with almost no flash to his game. Duncan, who grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands, played four years at Wake Forest while many of his contemporaries were declaring for the draft out of high school. He likely would have been a top pick in earlier years, but he was just determined to finish school.
His game was not the type that made many highlight reels, but it was the type that won games.
Duncan played 19 years in the NBA and dominated with incredible command of the fundamental elements of the game. He shot elbow jumpers with precision.
Duncan was a great post player. He took, and made, a million shots high off the glass like a player from an older generation. He could pivot off either foot and score with both hands.
Duncan was an unbelievable post defender and team defender. He was a great rebounder who could block shots. But mostly he played defense by being in position. He was seemingly always in the right place.
He contributed to winning as much or more than any other player in the history of the game.His teams won at least fifty games every year of his career except for a strike shortened season. His teams won five NBA titles.
He was also amazingly consistent. He was great playing with David Robinson and great playing with Manu Ginóbili and great playing with Kawhi Leonard.
Duncan was also known for his low-key personality. He did all this winning without much comment. He was laid back and seemingly uninterested in fame or attention.
So, in short, Tim Duncan was the ultimate winning player with almost no sizzle to his game or personal style. And that is why Shaq called him the Big Fundamental.
Shaq was, in many ways, the anti-Duncan: known for his flair on the court and huge persona off of it. Shaq loved giving himself nicknames including the Big Aristotle.
He developed the nickname the Big Fundamental for Tim Duncan explaining “I was probably 80 percent talent, 20 percent fundamental. Tim Duncan was 80 percent fundamental and 20 percent talent. And he got five rings and I got four…”
The nickname the Big Fundamental is probably Tim Duncan’s best nickname because it describes him and his game so well. It has stuck with him for that reason.
Why was Tim Duncan Nicknamed the Stone Buddha?Embed from Getty Images
The Stone Buddha is an amazing nickname for Time Duncan and it only misses out on being his best nickname because it is a little too much of a niche nickname to be widely known.
Apparently, Tim Duncan is called 石佛 or “The Stone Buddha” in China. The NBA is huge in China and fans there call players by nicknames much like fans in North America do.
This one for Tim Duncan is great. Obviously, it refers to his placid demeanor while playing. As I discussed in the Big Fundamental section, Duncan was known for his consistent, fundamentally sound play and his low-key demeanor.
He played like a placid figure not bothered by the outside world. Like he was made of stone or was the Buddha himself. Hence, the Stone Buddha. If this was widely known earlier in Duncan’s career it may have stuck a bit more.
Why was Tim Duncan Nicknamed Old Man Riverwalk?
Much like the Stone Buddha, I love the nickname Old Man Riverwalk for Tim Duncan. To an, ahem, older man, like myself, the pieces are fairly obvious. But let me lay them out for you young people.
Duncan had that old man’s game even as a young man. He played the game like someone out of the fifties with good positional defense, great low post footwork and shots off the glass.
And, after nineteen years in the league, he was an old man by NBA standards. And there is a pretty famous song called Old Man River.
In the song, the Old Man River just keeps rolling along. That was Tim Duncan. His teams won early in his career, with his first title coming in his second year, and they won later in his career too with his last title coming in his 17th year.
His Spurs teams mostly won before and after those titles as well. His teams, like Duncan himself, kept rolling along.
But Duncan was not called Old Man River, he was called Old Man Riverwalk because of the San Antonio Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a huge outdoor park alongside the San Antonio River surrounded by shops and tourist attractions. The San Antonio Spurs held all five NBA title parades on the Riverwalk.
So Old Man Riverwalk fits Tim Dunan to a T. His game was old, he was “old” by the end of his career, he played in the city of the Riverwalk, and he just kept rolling along.
Why was Tim Duncan Nicknamed Groundhog Day?
The nickname Groundhog Day was given to Tim Duncan by NBA hall-of-famer and analyst Charles Barkley because of his remarkable consistency. Duncan played consistently throughout the season and throughout his career.
Duncan’s teams also won consistently throughout his entire career. Opponents, like Barkley, knew what they were getting when they faced Tim Duncan – and it was not going to be an off night.
So what does that have to do with the February 2nd celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania where a groundhog “decides” how long winter will continue? Nothing, really.
Groundhog Day is the name of a movie I found quite funny when I was a kid. In it, Bill Murray plays a weatherman who ends up trapped in a reality where he relives the same day over and over again. That day: Groundhog Day.
Charles Barkley was referring to the 1993 movie in calling Tim Duncan Groundhog Day. Playing him was the same every time – but not in a fun way!
Summary: Tim Duncan’s Nicknames
Tim Duncan had a bunch of fun nicknames that mostly did not stick to him too well. He was called Old Man Riverwalk because of his ability to keep the Spurs rolling along. He was called Groundhog Day because of his consistency. Chinese fans called him Stone Buddha because of his quiet demeanor. Finally, Duncan was called the Big Fundamental by Shaq for his otherworldly command of basketball’s basics. This is the nickname that stuck with Duncan the most.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.