As a power forward, Aldridge considers Duncan among the top two or three of the last 30 years. As a center, he's in the top five or six, somewhere behind luminaries Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Russell, Aldridge said.
Yet the four NBA Finals in which the Spurs snared their championships -- 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007 -- are among the lowest-rated finals in recent history, Aldridge said, and it has a lot to do with Duncan's low-key nature.
In a recent Sports Illustrated cover story (at least our pals at SI are giving Duncan his props), Chris Ballard reported that the 6-foot-11 star veteran out of Wake Forest was content to stay out of the spotlight. He largely eschews endorsements and long interviews for the most part and is content "100 times out of 100" to spend his off days with his wife and two kids.
"With the media, I just keep it basic, surface, to the point," Duncan told the reporter. "You're here to talk about basketball. I'll give you what you want, and let's go home. I don't really care about anyone getting to know me, or getting into my life or anything else like that."
Yet with almost no hype, no trash talking, no taunting opponents, no pompous show of powdering one's hands, Duncan has led the team to unprecedented success: The Spurs own a .702 winning percentage in Duncan's 15 years in the league -- better than any MLB, NFL, NHL or NBA team in the land, according to SI.
Popovich has always surrounded Duncan with players who suit the star's personality and playing style, just as he did with David Robinson when the Naval Academy graduate anchored the team.
Pop's mentality is just as important to the Spurs' culture as Duncan "quietly leading the team to excellence year in, year out," Lebowitz said. He knows the game's challenges and how to get the best out of his squad, and there is a "great human reciprocity between him and his players."
He teaches his players how best to carry themselves as part of the Spurs' brand, and the players know how to wear it, even if the jerseys don't sell so well, Lebowitz said.
"You can't base success on monetization," he said.
Establishing the culture has been important to the team's success, Lebowitz said, pointing to Parker and forward Stephen Jackson as examples.
Parker went through a divorce to actress Eva Longoria last year after facing allegations that he cheated on her with an ex-teammate's wife. Captain Jack, as he's known, rejoined the team midseason this year, his sixth team change since he left the Spurs in 2003. A key figure in 2004's "Malice in the Palace," Jackson until this year was better known for his big mouth and his penchant for nightclubs.
This season, there has been little mention of Parker's or Jackson's pasts, as both have quietly made themselves invaluable to this year's championship campaign. While Parker has had an MVP-caliber season, Jackson has come off the bench, averaging an awfully helpful nine points, four rebounds and two dishes per game.
"This is a team that has achieved through cooperative culture," Lebowitz said. "I don't try to match it up against another ballclub. I just say, 'There's a place that's doing it right.' "
Heap all the credit you want on Popovich, the reigning and two-time NBA coach of the year, but Aldridge said the success wouldn't be possible without Duncan, who "allows Gregg Popovich to coach him."
Unlike some of the big stars in the league, Duncan allows Pop to "yell at him, curse at him and treat him like a dog," and Duncan's teammates have to follow suit, Aldridge said.
"Their whole team is predicated on all these people who can play with Tim and around Tim," he said. "(Popovich) has said he doesn't want to spend the rest of his years in the NBA coaching a bunch of jerks."
It's a model Lebowitz wishes more teams would follow. Call the Spurs boring all you want, but true basketball fans appreciate the grace and efficiency with which Duncan & Co. knock down opponents. What's more, Lebowitz sees in Duncan -- and previously, in Robinson -- a quiet champion whom he wouldn't mind any of his five sons striving to emulate.
And for fans such as Lebowitz, there are some things more important to society than selling jerseys.