San Antonio couldn’t have been any more all-in about celebrating Tony Parker Day.
Inside Dillard’s North Star Mall store, a group of Spurs loyalists gathered on November 9 and listened intently as Parker recounted his unlikely journey from France to the NBA. The event was part of Parker’s duties as a brand ambassador for watch maker Tissot, and eager fans plunked down $350-plus for new timepieces and guaranteed access to the greatest point guard in Spurs history.
“You have to put it in perspective,” Parker told them. “Back then, there were no European point guards. There was only, I think, two or three international players. I was just telling myself like, ‘If I can just play, maybe a good backup, play 10 minutes. It’d be great.’ And then after four games, Pop calls me on the plane, and he says, ‘You’re going to start.’ And I was like ‘Oh my God.’ It was super fast. That’s why I say, even in my wildest dreams, I never dreamed about a career like that.”
Watching the NBA from afar in France, Parker idolized legendary point guards Magic Johnson, Gary Payton and Isiah Thomas. He arrived in San Antonio in 2001, and like Tim Duncan before him, Parker won his first NBA championship with the Spurs in just his second season. His youthful confidence and mental toughness in the face of often intense coaching quickly endeared him to San Antonio’s hoops-crazed community.
According to Parker the feeling was mutual.
“It’s home,” Parker told the Current
. “I arrived when I was 19 years old and they adopted me, and that’s where I grew up. I love the city. I love the fans. The love that they have for the players, for the Spurs organization is just unbelievable. San Antonio will always be home for me.”
Blessed with unparalleled speed, a dynamic spin move and his patented teardrop, Parker quarterbacked the Spurs to three additional titles, displaying the type of swagger usually associated with the league’s glamor franchises. Of course, there were a few minor missteps. A fledgling rap career that coincided with his third championship raised eyebrows off the court, and Parker was notably injured in 2012 during a New York City nightclub brawl involving Chris Brown and Drake.
Paired with Duncan and running mate Manu Ginobili, Parker paced the winningest trio in NBA history to 575 regular season wins and 126 postseason victories. He finished his career with the Spurs as the franchise leader in assists, with 6,829 total dimes, despite never really being regarded as a distributor. On the day celebrating his personal legacy, Parker publicly lauded the chemistry between San Antonio’s Big Three, noting its impact on their collective journey. Coach Gregg Popovich echoed the sentiment prior to Parker’s jersey retirement ceremony.
“Let’s just imagine that they had egos so that they couldn’t deal with each other,” Popovich told assembled media. “You don’t have championships. You have pretty good seasons probably. Less fun. That wasn’t the case. We were unbelievably fortunate. It was like serendipity to have three guys that you could coach and hold them accountable just like you would anybody else on the team. No special treatment or anything like that.”
R.C. Buford, CEO of Spurs Sports & Entertainment, was visibly moved when praising Parker’s and Ginobili’s resilience and physicality in “perilous circumstances.”
“One of the toughest days of my career was when Tony got hurt in the playoff series in the first round,” Buford told reporters. “To know how injury-resilient he’s been and then to see just in one play, him go down, I know that was hard for all of us. But then the determination that we saw in his return from a significant injury that had not had great results from within the NBA return-to-play community, I think was again a sign of the toughness that Tony brought to the game.”
After a listless 109-113 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Parker’s signature number 9 became the 10th jersey retired by the San Antonio Spurs. By joining his fellow Big Three in the AT&T Center rafters, Parker fittingly closed the curtain on a quiet dynasty that transfixed generations of Spurs faithful. When asked on Tony Parker Day how fans and pundits should remember him, Parker was succinct.
“Whatever they want,” Parker told the Current
. “That’s people’s choice. For me the way I look at it is we had an unbelievable journey and I feel very blessed that I was part of it.”
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