SAN ANTONIO — Retired San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan penned an impassioned plea Friday in The Players’ Tribune for donations toward Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and by Saturday he’d reached more than half of his $1 million goal.
One of just four players from the U.S. Virgin Islands to have ever appeared in an NBA game, Duncan wrote of the importance of immediate and sustained aid learned from his own experiences in 1989 as a 13-year old in the wake of Hurricane Hugo, a Category 5 storm. With Hurricane Jose also bearing down, Duncan writes: “Now time is of the essence.”
As one of San Antonio’s most revered figures, Duncan likely won’t have to wait long for help from former teammates such as Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, as well as coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford. Duncan still works out often with the Spurs at the team’s facilities, and even has a locker in the coaches’ room next to vice president of operations Monty Williams.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which battered Houston in late August, the Spurs met as an organization to research the most efficient ways to assist those impacted by the storm, according to sources, and made plenty of contributions that weren’t publicized. So there’s a good chance the Spurs handle this situation similarly.
Duncan promised that every dollar donated will go directly toward relief efforts on the ground in U.S. Virgin Islands. The forward started off his fundraising effort with a YouCaring account and an immediate $250,000 contribution, while pledging to match all donations up to the first $1 million.
Duncan mentioned he’s in the process of putting together a team to help with managing the relief effort, and plans to charter a plane next week full of supplies from San Antonio to St. Croix.
For those unable to make monetary donations, Duncan is accepting physical goods for next week’s flight to St. Croix. Duncan explained how beneficial canned goods were to his family after Hurricane Hugo.
“I lived off that stuff after Hugo. Chef Boyardee was my guy,” Duncan wrote. “A distribution center was set up in our neighborhood, and cans of Chef Boyardee were some of the only meals available to us. Tang was a treat, as well, if they had it in the latest shipment — we’d boil water to make sure it was clean, and then mix in the Tang powder.
“So this week I’ve been thinking a lot about those cans,” Duncan added. “Because they were a godsend. They were like magic to me. Someone had sent them — I don’t know who, or what organization, but someone had sent them. And I was so happy and grateful. Not because I loved them — I probably haven’t had Chef Boyardee since — but because that food was a necessity. It got us through.
“Islands like ours tend to get forgotten after storms. We’re remote, which makes it hard to deliver supplies quickly, cheaply and adequately. A lot of people don’t think of the Virgin Islands as someone’s home, but as more of a getaway — it was only when I got older that I figured that out.”
Interestingly, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 played at least a small role in Duncan eventually putting together a Hall of Fame NBA career. Duncan didn’t even start playing basketball until age 14.
Prior to that, Duncan had earned recognition as a champion swimmer in St. Croix (he broke the 50- and 100-meter freestyle records on the island and was ranked the top 400-meter freestyler in the United States for his age group), where his sister, Tricia, had become a 1988 Olympian. Duncan endeavored to make the 1992 or 1996 Olympic teams. But when Hurricane Hugo hit, the damage from the storm destroyed his island’s only Olympic-sized swimming pool.
Duncan tried to practice his craft swimming in the Caribbean, but feared sharks, and the natural elements presented by the ocean weren’t conducive to Olympic training. In addition, Duncan’s mother, Ione, died from breast cancer one day before his 14th birthday.
Duncan eventually lost interest in swimming and turned to basketball.
Still, Duncan isn’t sure whether he’d have never picked up a basketball if not for Hugo. In 1995, Duncan was asked if he would’ve gravitated toward basketball had he made the ’92 Olympic team as a swimmer.
“Probably,” Duncan told the Los Angeles Times. “Eventually. It just wouldn’t have been sudden as it was. But slowly, I would have turned to basketball, I believe.”