Spurs honor Tony Parker with jersey retirement

NBA.com Global on Nov 12, 2019 01:09 PM
Spurs honor Tony Parker with jersey retirement
Former San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker, right, hugs former coach Gregg Popovich during Parker's retirement ceremony after the team's NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies in San Antonio, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

By Michael C. Wright, NBA.com

SAN ANTONIO -- The frigid chill swept through with the early-evening cold front, but it couldn’t deter the hundreds of fans posing outside for pictures next to a sign bearing Tony Parker’s likeness below the words “Merci Tony.”

Inside the AT&T Center, hours before San Antonio was set to hang Parker’s No. 9 from the rafters in a jersey-retirement ceremony, the franchise’s brass took turns expressing thanks, too.

“We all knew the day was going to come, so it’s not a surprise,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It will be a festive occasion when we all get to thank him after the game. He certainly deserves it. We’ll bid him bon voyage, and he’ll live the rest of his life. He’s got a lot ahead of him.”

Parker’s jersey retirement becomes the franchise’s 10th, with the club set to raise No. 9 to the rafters alongside Spurs greats Bruce Bowen (12), Tim Duncan (21), Sean Elliott (32), George Gervin (44), Manu Ginobili (20), Avery Johnson (6), Johnny Moore (00), David Robinson (50), and James Silas (13).

Having contributed to four NBA titles in 17 seasons in San Antonio, Parker became the third member of the franchise’s famed “Big Three” to have his jersey retired. The Spurs retired Duncan’s jersey in 2016 and Ginobili’s last season, with Parker serving as one of the speakers in each of those ceremonies.

This time around after tonight’s contest against the Memphis Grizzlies, Duncan, Ginobili and Popovich are expected to take turns lauding the 2007 NBA Finals MVP, who also became the first European to win MVP in league history.

Other friends and colleagues on hand included Ian Mahinmi, George Hill, Mike Budenholzer, Ime Udoka, Bruce Bowen, Ronny Turiaf, Michael Finley.

“I think I am, if not the most, one of the most fortunate coaches ever to get to do this,” Popovich said. “It’s just remarkable to be able to be with them for that period of time and watch them develop as people, as players, to see them interact with so many other people, to travel with them for whatever, eight months a year. It’s rare. Not a lot of people are going to be able to say they were with three Hall of Fame players for that long a period of time. Talk about serendipity, good fortune, whatever you want to call it. I certainly feel honored and fortunate to have been there.”

Parker, Duncan and Ginobili captured a total of 126 postseason wins together, which ranks as the most by any trio in NBA playoff history. The second-ranked trio -- Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Michael Cooper -- logged 110 victories.

The night before the ceremony, Parker held a private party in which rapper Nelly graced the microphone for the retired point guard and a bevy of other celebrity guests. In the hours leading into tipoff, Charlotte head coach James Borrego, who coached Parker as an assistant in San Antonio, was seen inside the AT&T Center awaiting the ceremony, along with Hornets forward, and close friend Nicolas Batum, as well as French soccer star Thierry Henry.

“I feel for the team that has to be there for one of the retirement ceremonies of one of these guys,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I think of [Tony Parker] as one of the best pick-and-roll players of this era when the game turned to pick-and-roll; so a guy that defined the game in a lot of ways. He was a bear to guard. I know that.”

Drafted 28th overall in 2001 as a 19-year-old from France, Parker earned recognition on the All-NBA team on four occasions, in addition to being named to six All-Star teams. Parker holds the San Antonio franchise record for assists (6,829), ranks No. 2 in games played (1,198). Parker also sits at No. 4 on the Spurs all-time scoring list in points (18,943) and steals (1,032), finishing his career as one of five players in league annals along with Oscar Robertson, John Stockton, LeBron James and Gary Payton to register at least 19,000 points and 7,000 assists.

Remarkably, Parker took over as San Antonio’s starting point guard in just the fifth game of his rookie season.

“A lot was thrust onto Tony from a very young age. The responsibility of bringing a team to its next generation as a point guard after a championship team in ’99 with two Hall of Famers (Duncan and Robinson) players on the floor expecting to continue that run,” said Spurs CEO R.C. Buford, who drafted Parker and served as the team’s GM from 2002-19. “The expectations that he faced from Day 1 were pretty overwhelming.”

Popovich outlined Parker’s rapid ascension, starting with the point guard’s struggles in his first pre-draft workout, to earning the role of starter.

“We brought him in for a workout. Everybody heard about that. It was a disaster,” Popovich explained. “So, he asked to come back, and we did it again. In that second workout, I stacked it and brought in a couple of guys to beat him up more or less. All we did is post. We didn’t let him play out on the court at all. I just wanted to see what he was made of, if he was gonna fold, see how physical he could be or what he could take or what he could dish out. He really impressed me. So, during training camp and the first couple of games, I was really tough on him; gave him a lot of things to think about, a lot of things to do, put him on the best players on the other team whenever I could.

"And he showed that he had the fortitude and the courage to do this, and that the challenge of taking over a team that’s supposed to be successful wasn’t gonna matter to him. He was just gonna play. I gave him the ball and said, ‘This is yours. Figure it out, and I’m gonna love you and I’m gonna dump on you both at the same time.’ That’s what we did.”

Over 18 NBA seasons in San Antonio and with the Charlotte Hornets, Parker averaged 15.5 points, 5.6 assists and 2.7 rebounds.

Most importantly, Parker produced victories, finishing No. 7 in league history in that category (892 wins).

Parker finally ceded his starting job to Dejounte Murray on Jan. 21, 2018, after recovering from a devastating ruptured quadriceps injury suffered during the 2017 Western Conference semifinals. Despite the injury being a potential career ender, Parker rushed back the following season, making his season debut on Nov. 27., 2017.

Buford became emotional Monday discussing how Parker’s comeback effort embodied the point guard’s resilience and toughness.

“He probably didn’t get as much credit for [it] as he deserved,” Buford said, choking up.

Parker would start 21 games his final season in San Antonio, before approaching Popovich about moving Murray into the starting lineup in his place.

“That’s what you would expect from somebody who has his character,” Popovich said. “Players that have class, that have character, that understand more about the group than themselves do that. He knew his speed would fade, that he needed to shoot, and he learned how to do that much better. He understood younger players were probably going to get time, and his time would diminish, and he would need to be a mentor and help them along the way. From beginning to end, he was just a class act.”

Parker played his final NBA season for former longtime Spurs assistant Borrego with the Charlotte Hornets, where he worked closely with point guard Kemba Walker. Walker remembers Parker’s first game back in San Antonio as a Hornet and the warm welcome and video tribute he received.

Jamming a fist into the pocket of an orange letterman jacket, Walker shook his head in disappointment that he won’t be able to attend Parker’s jersey retirement ceremony. Two nights before, the Celtics defeated 135-115 at the AT&T Center.

“Damn, I wish I could be here for that,” Walker said. “[Parker’s last game in San Antonio] was amazing. Tony is a great friend of mine, and I’m blessed to have gotten the opportunity to be alongside him. I’ve learned so much playing with him just in one year. He’s a guy who I admire, and I looked up to as a point guard for a very long time. It’s definitely much deserved that he’s getting his jersey retired. I was very blessed to be here last season when he came back [to see] his tribute video and things of that nature. That was a special night for him, and I was definitely really excited to be a part of that.”

Parker played in 226 postseason games with the Spurs, which ranks as sixth-most in league history. In those outings, Parker averaged 17.9 points, 5.1 assists and 2.9 rebounds. Parker ranks No. 5 all-time in postseason assists (1,143) and ninth in points (4,045) and is one of just four players in NBA playoff history to score 4,000 points and log 1,000 assists, joining Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

Parker joins Karl Malone, Stockton and Jason Kidd as one of just four players in NBA history to appear in 17 consecutive playoffs.

Parker finally joining Duncan and Ginobili in AT&T Center immortality at last closes the greatest chapter of the franchise’s history, sending the point guard off as the last of San Antonio’s Big Three.

“It feels awful,” Buford joked. “They’re supposed to be on the floor. You don’t see it happening in sports. We were, as a community, as an organization, as an NBA, as a global basketball community, we were the beneficiaries of three unique personalities that probably wouldn’t have come together and grown together anyplace else like they did here. They all sacrificed for what was best for the team, for each other. It’s what made them the winningest trio that our organization will ever see probably.”

Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here, and follow him on Twitter.

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