There’s something striking about watching a 7-footer kickbox. Even more so when that 7-footer is perhaps the greatest power forward in NBA history, Tim Duncan. (Fine, fine, he’s listed at 6’11” and mostly played center, but you get the point.)
Jason Echols of Echols Fitness in San Antonio recently posted a video on Facebook of him and the Spurs legend kickboxing—a clip that quickly accumulated nearly 200,000 views.
To find out what it’s like to fight one of the greatest basketball players ever to live, we asked Echols himself, who’s been training Duncan for nearly a decade. Echols spoke to Bleacher Report about how he began working with Duncan, whether The Big Fundamental is as vanilla as he is stereotyped to be and what it’s like to watch the recent retiree fight another Spurs legend—The General, David Robinson.
Bleacher Report: How did you meet Tim Duncan and how did you become his trainer?
Jason Echols: One other guy I knew had a fitness gym going, and we were both martial artists. Therefore, we had a little martial arts training circle happening where guys were coming in and out. Tim was just a friend of a friend, and he popped in and we just hit it off. We continued training, and the rest is history. That was 2008 or 2009. It’s been a while.
B/R: What was your first impression of him?
JE: When he walked in the door, I could see that he was very hungry to learn martial arts, and his movement, his absorption of the martial arts was just phenomenal. You could really see the athleticism that existed in him already. It caught onto these movements, and he was able to absorb them better and pick it up better than the average person because of his athleticism. His size…it’s incredible to watch him move. Now the world is seeing it.
B/R: He’s much bigger than the average kickboxer. How does that affect how you train him and how he goes about his training regimen?
JE: I’m 5’10”, so to be in front of someone of that size, it takes more physical energy to train a beast like that. It’s hard holding the mitts for him, hard getting hit by him. Even though he’s lugging on me and not executing full power, just to take a wallop from his leg, it’s quite an impact.
B/R: Did you have any expectations when you met him about what he might be like?
JE: I was never a sports fan other than UFC and kickboxing. I was never into basketball or football or anything. Being in San Antonio, it’s hard to not know who Tim Duncan is. When he walked in, he was always the quiet guy in the public eye; I believe I saw a different side of him, because he’s a roaring lion in martial arts.
He’s an animal. It’s a different thing than what you see out on the court. The more intense the training gets, the more calm he becomes, which you’ve seen on the court. The way he executes the movements, he’s a f–king monster.
B/R: Any stories from training with him?
JE: One time, I tore my bicep just trying to move with him at a higher-level pace. He’s so big and his elbows are like spears and his bones are really sharp. Just interacting and punching with him, I hit him with a right hook and his elbow caught the inside of my bicep and tore it right off, just from moving around. Whatever pace I’m at, he sets it. The roaring lion is his passion to learn, his passion to pick up the movements. He’s really, really passionate and into the idea of martial arts. It’s cool to watch.
B/R: What is he like as a person, having worked with him for a long time?
JE: The public has an opinion on him, and mine is a little bit different. He’s known as the good, quiet guy. I get to see his passion, and he’s incredibly funny. He’s a super humorous guy. We laugh our asses off a lot when we’re training. I think he’s actually a better person than the public even thinks he is.
One time he came in and said, “Stephen Jackson wants to spar with me.” I asked, “Who’s Stephen Jackson?” We both started laughing ’cause it was a sports player I clearly should’ve known, but because I didn’t, we both started cracking up and laughing. I don’t know much about the NBA, and I think he delights in that. The dude’s hilarious.
B/R: What has surprised you about working with him?
JE: His passion. His ability to want to learn and continue learning. We play a little game called violent chess. His intensity and strategical thinking—being in front of someone like that is extremely intimidating because of his size. I think most of all, his athleticism and size has surprised me the most. He’s a roaring lion, and I can see his passion—he has to turn it down a bit. If I hold up the mitts, he could just let it go and tear my arm off.
B/R: What do you remember from the first time fighting him?
JE: I remember being very ready to run. I would stick and run. He figured out my game and worked his way around it. I’ve had some very rough gos in front of him. When he wasn’t playing in the offseason, we would turn it up quite a bit. It was very surprising to me how aggressive and intense he was.
B/R: Where does he rank among the guys you’ve trained?
JE: He’s my No. 1 student by far. Again, his athleticism and size and competitive spirit and his exposure to being an athlete. I jokingly said to someone else that it could be a cupcake-baking contest and he would win because he’s just good at whatever he does. The sophistication level of him absorbing the martial arts that we have is very, very high. It’s hard for him to catch up with his capabilities.
B/R: When you tell people that you train Tim Duncan, what is their reaction?
JE: Excitement. People get excited. They really like it. I’ve been in San Antonio most of my life, so most of the people that I speak to know me or know of me. It’s really an exciting deal to say I train Tim.
I don’t know if you know this, but I’ve had the pleasure of working with David Robinson, too, and he’s another incredibly humongous, crazy amazing guy that’s been coming through. It’s neat to say I’ve had the Twin Towers come through Echols Fitness.
B/R: If David Robinson and Tim Duncan square off, who would win?
JE: They’ve done a bit of it already. David is at a level where he’s not as advanced as Tim is. He started more recently than Tim, but to watch those two guys move around together is definitely a spectacular sight to see. Maybe the public will see [that] in the coming days. You never know.
B/R: What is it like to see that happen?
JE: I sat next to David Robinson’s son, Justin [a 6’9″ redshirt sophomore with the Duke basketball team], and we sat there with our mouths hanging open. It was bizarre. They’re freaking enormous. We were in shock. Tim would turn around and wait for us to say something coach-like, but I was stunned. There was nothing I could say. They are both so humongous.
B/R: If Tim Duncan or David Robinson wanted to get into MMA, would they would be able to compete?
JE: [Duncan] would be a legit competitor. For sure. He has a desire to learn and compete. He has the heart for it. He most definitely would be a competitor. I would highly encourage him not to. Being a retired Spurs player, I wouldn’t want him going out there and getting punched and kicked by some of those guys, but Tim would be a competitor. David would learn to become one. They are both competitive guys and not used to losing.
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