During the 2000 NBA offseason, the Orlando Magic signed some of the top players in the game including Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady.
They nearly secured a deal with Tim Duncan, who said his decision was “a lot closer” than many would have realized. Duncan shared an agent with Hill and they were both on the All-Star team for their respective conferences that season.
Duncan was flown to Orlando on a private jet and was reportedly convinced to stay two days longer than originally planned. Hill told the team general manager John Gabriel that Duncan wanted to hear more.
So the big man met with Doc Rivers (who was the head coach of the Magic) on the final day they were in town.
According to Bruce Bowen, who played alongside Duncan for many years, one of the nails in the coffin to convince the lifetime Spurs star to remain in San Antonio was a denied request from Rivers.
Bowen told what he knew about the story during a recent broadcast he was calling for the Clippers, where Rivers is now the coach (via FOX Sports):
“He asked this question: can family come on the flights to some games. From what I understand, Doc said no. And that’s where he lost Tim Duncan. I mean, sometimes you’ve got to bend some rules, don’t you?”
It’s worth mentioning, of course, that Basketball Hall of Fame player David Robinson also cut his vacation short to help convince Duncan to stay as a big man tandem.
Darrell Armstrong, currently an assistant coach for the Mavericks, played for Orlando from 1994 until 2003. He did not believe Duncan was seriously considering leaving.
But regardless, Bowen made a great point about the decision from Rivers. Why not accommodate a free agent like Duncan when he has such a high caliber performance potential?