tim duncan facing the orlando magic
Tim Duncan spent his entire career with the San Antonio Spurs, but considered joining the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2000. Getty

San Antonio Spurs legend Tim Duncan will be remembered as one of the league’s best winners and perhaps the greatest power forward the game has seen. But behind the scenes, his career apparently was shaped in part by ex-wife Amy Sherrill, who helped steer him away from the Orlando Magic and urged him to stay with the Spurs.

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel chronicled how in 2000, the Magic pursued Duncan, who was a free agent at the time, along with stars Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady. Hill and McGrady would sign with Orlando, but Duncan was a different story.

Duncan was 24 years old at the time and dating Sherrill, who had asked then-Magic head coach Doc Rivers if she could occasionally be allowed on team flights. When the request was denied, it didn’t sit well with Sherrill, who later expressed her feelings to Rivers’ wife, Kris.

The Spurs and the Magic were the only teams on Duncan’s radar. Since head coach Gregg Popovich didn’t mind the occasional friend or family member on team flights, it seems reasonable to think that the issue may have helped sway Duncan to re-sign with San Antonio.

Money probably also played a role. The Magic offered Duncan a six-year contract worth $67.5 million, but he was able to receive more than $74 million in the same span with the Spurs, according to figures compiled by Spotrac.

While Duncan and the Spurs remained together from start to finish, his marriage to Sherrill didn’t last. In 2013, Duncan and Sherrill filed for divorce after 12 years. The San Antonio Express-News reported that Duncan had “been living with emotional turmoil” for most of the 2012-13 season, though he posted stronger statistics around the time of the initial divorce petition.

Duncan, who won his first title in a shortened 1998-99 season, won four more titles with the Spurs. Playing alongside the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili under the direction of Popovich has been a winning formula. Duncan even reached the finals in the year of his divorce, losing to the Miami Heat in seven games.

How Duncan would have fared in Orlando is anyone’s guess. But he probably would have had an easier time reaching the finals in the Eastern Conference, which was rather weak in the early 2000s. The Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets failed to put up much of a fight in the finals, and after the 2003 NBA Finals, the West won seven titles compared to the East’s six.

The Magic had solid seasons between 2000 and 2003, but after Rivers was fired and replaced by Johnny Davis, the Magic failed to make the postseason for three straight seasons. Most of the struggles were due to injuries to Hill and after McGrady was traded to the Houston Rockets.