By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
After 18 seasons in the NBA, Tony Parker decided that he couldn’t be “Tony Parker anymore”. And with Dirk Nowitzki also deciding to retire, only Pau Gasol remains active from the “Holy Trinity” of European NBA stars.
A four-time Champion with the Spurs, Parker was a Finals MVP in 2007, a six-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA Second Team member. He is a lock for the 2023 Hall of Fame class, together with Dirk Nowitzki – the best European player ever – and Parker rightfully can be considered, without a shadow of a doubt, the best ever European guard.
Yes, even better than legends like Drazen Petrovic and Nick Galis. After all, Parker has retired from the French national team as the leading scorer and passer in Eurobaskets’ history. And, outside the French borders, this is probably the most underappreciated aspect of his career.
Since 2000 in the U18 Eurobasket tournament in Zadar, when he led France to the gold medal, Tony Parker had made his life purpose to win a gold medal with the senior team. It was more than a lofty goal.
While France was always a respectable team, they didn’t have a lot of success after the 1950s. To be exact France had won a silver medal in 1949 and four bronze in 1937, 1951, 1953 and 1959. And while Parker was winning gold as a teenager, the senior team in the 2000 Olympics lost the final to Team USA.
If you are a casual fan of international basketball, there’s an important thing to note. The Olympic basketball tournament is considered in Europe much easier – and rightfully so – compared to the Eurobasket and the FIBA World Cup.
With just 12 teams included and due to the tournaments’ restrictions, many of the top European teams are simply missing from the Olympics. And that can make the path to the medal much easier for those who are present. In many cases, the hard thing to do for European teams is to qualify for the Olympics and they are automatically among the favorites if they get in.
Things are different in a Eurobasket tournament. There are simply more good teams competing. And since 2001 Parker, made getting to the top with his national team a priority.
Having already won his first NBA title in 2003, Parker competed in the 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011. 2013 and 2015 FIBA EuroBaskets. On the contrary, he was injured or rested during the 2006 and the 2010 FIBA World Cup.
It was a really long road with heartbreaking defeats, initially in the 2005 semifinal to Greece after a historic comeback of the winners and then with Pau Gasol’s Spain becoming France’s arch-nemesis.
For six tournaments France failed, winning the bronze medal in 2005 and the silver in 2011. And finally, in 2013, they made it. One year after the London Olympics, Parker was the MVP and the top scorer of the Eurobasket, leading France to its first and only gold medal.
After a 75-72 win in the semifinal against Spain, France beat Lithuania and got the gold. Spain got its revenge after two years in 2015 when France was the Eurobasket host but during 2013 Parker owned Europe.
And for almost two decades he owned French basketball. His generation of players became known as “Parker generation”, the San Antonio Spurs had probably more fans in France than in the States and he is without question the best ever French basketball player.
And he did it without having the physical gifts of Gasol or Nowitzki. Yes, Parker was also athletically gifted, probably the fastest guard in the NBA during his peak, but he had the size of an average human.
And while he was walking among giants, he was a natural and vocal leader, a beacon of perseverance and occasional arrogance. And even his arrogance was charming…