How A Stroke Of Bad Luck Prevented Tim Duncan From Playing For Celtics

One of the NBA’s all-time greats retired Monday, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

But if it wasn’t for some unlucky bounces of the ping-pong balls, Tim Duncan’s number could have been raised to the rafters at TD Garden, not AT&T Center.

Duncan, of course, was taken No. 1 overall in the 1997 NBA Draft by the San Antonio Spurs. He spent his entire career in San Antonio, winning five NBA championships under head coach Gregg Popovich and being selected to 15 All-Star teams over his 19-year career.

The Spurs didn’t enter the 1997 NBA Draft Lottery as the favorites to land Duncan, however. Instead, the front-runners were the Boston Celtics, who had the best odds to get the first pick at 27.5 percent. San Antonio, meanwhile, had just 21.6 percent odds to score the No. 1 pick, but in a stroke of bad luck, the Celtics dropped all the way to No. 3, while the Spurs vaulted to No. 1.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It was a brutal result for the C’s, who endured a miserable 15-67 season in 1996-97 to earn the best chances of landing Duncan. Even Duncan himself believed he was headed to Boston.

“I was pretty sure I was coming to Boston,” Duncan said in a 2007 interview with The Boston Globe. “They had the two picks. Then the sixth pick went by and the third pick went by, both to Boston, and, all of a sudden, I kinda had a renewed interest in what was going on. Then Philly came up — and then I knew I was going to San Antonio and that was a great feeling.”

The Celtics’ bad luck didn’t stop there, as they selected Chauncey Billups with the third overall pick. Billups didn’t pan out in Boston and was traded after just 51 games, but he then went on to earn five All-Star nods and win an NBA title over a solid 20-year career.

The 1997 NBA draft is one the C’s would like to forget, and Duncan’s enduring legacy in San Antonio serves as another painful reminder.

Thumbnail photo via Soobum Im/USA TODAY Sports Images

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