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One man is an island

Tim Duncan’s first magazine cover — ever

Photographer Terry Doyle jumped at the opportunity to travel to St. Croix. She was new to her career in 1995—much like Tim Duncan was to the national spotlight. Doyle met the forward in his hometown of Christiansted for an ESPN College Basketball photo shoot. The mag was a market test for what eventually became ESPN The Magazine. Twelve editions were published, and this Duncan cover, dated Winter 1995, was the premiere. He was age 19 and a junior at Wake Forest University.

During the 1995-96 season, the Demon Deacon averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and four blocks a game on 56 percent shooting. Those numbers ballooned to 20 and 15 on 61 during his senior campaign. “Everyone at ESPN was well aware Duncan would eventually become the No. 1 pick,” says Gary Hoenig, editor-in-chief of the issue (and now editorial director of The Players’ Tribune).

…the quiet and intense young man before her would end up with three Finals MVP trophies

But Doyle? She was more interested in capturing a moment than imagining that 21 years later, the quiet and intense young man before her would end up with three Finals MVP trophies. Or that only 13 players in NBA history would finish their careers with more points than The Big Fundamental, and only five with more rebounds. She couldn’t have imagined that Duncan’s final game might come as a semifinal defeat at the hands of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. But if May 12 2016 was the omega chapter of Tim Duncan’s life in a gray and black No. 21 jersey, Doyle (and all of us) can sleep at night knowing she photographed one of the ten greatest basketball players in the game’s history.

With respect to a grown man salt and pepper beard — Father Time has been good to Duncan. As for the ‘95 images of him, sweaty in his Wake Forest uni, staring downward after dunking on a chain-linked rim? “I’m 5’2 and he’s almost seven feet,” Doyle says with a laugh. “It was me looking up at this basketball player [like] this won’t be hard to get some incredible angles. I felt incredibly short.”

Aside from a dip in on-court production, it seems not much has changed about The Big Fundamental. He’s still the same ol’ (silent yet cordial) G. “He was incredibly polite to me and our whole crew,” Doyle remembers. “If I asked him to try this and that, he was very agreeable. Anybody we ran into on the island would always say how nice he was.”


Liner Notes

Each week in CoverStories, The Undefeated team goes behind the cover of iconic magazine, album and books covers. Plus some surprises.

Justin Tinsley is a senior culture writer for Andscape. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single most impactful statement of his generation.