San Antonio Spurs long time coach Gregg Popovich described five-time NBA champion Tim Duncan on Tuesday as the best example of a leader any coach in the NBA could hope for.
"He's the most real, consistent and true person I've met in my life," Popovich said. "When he speaks it's for a purpose. He led by example."
Popovich was speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, 24 hours after Duncan, who is considered one of the greatest players in history, announced his retirement, ending 19 brilliant seasons with the Spurs.
Duncan and Popovich formed one of the most successful duos in National Basketball Association history, accounting for the most wins ever by a player-coach combination at 1,001.
"I figured I better come out and do this and somehow say goodbye to him, which is an impossibility for a lot of reasons," said Popovich, who wore a black shirt with a picture of Duncan that read "Impossible Is Potential". "He's been the best teammate anyone could ever imagine."
Duncan wasn't present for the news conference.
The 40-year-old Duncan, who was selected as the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft, spent his entire career with the Spurs, an anomaly in a league where players often change teams. The Spurs reached the playoffs in every one of his 19 seasons.
"I would not be standing here if it wasn't for Tim Duncan," Popovich said.
"I'd be in the Budweiser League someplace in America, fat and still trying to play basketball or coach basketball. But he's why I'm standing. He's made livings for hundreds of us, staff and coaches, over the years and never said a word, just came to work every day. Came early, stayed late, was there for every single person, from the top of the roster to the bottom of the roster."
Duncan, also teamed with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to form one of the most successful trios in NBA history. They hold the league record for regular season wins (575) and postseason wins (126).
Duncan, a three-time NBA Finals MVP and a two-time regular season MVP, led San Antonio to titles in 1999, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2014. The Spurs posted a 1,072-438 regular-season record since drafting Duncan, the best 19-year run in league history.