Friday, May 18, 2012

Tony Parker is a Hall of Famer

The year was 2001.  The San Antonio Spurs were taking on the Seattle Supersonics in Seattle and I was watching the game from the relative comfort of my first apartment.  Before tipoff, the commentators were discussing the generic keys to victory for both teams.  Of course, the point guard matchup came up.  The Spurs' rookie from France (the youngest player to ever start for the Spurs) would be guarded by "The Glove" Gary Payton, whom had made the NBA's All-Defensive team nine times.  The talking heads bantered back and forth and chuckled while making inane comments like,

"This will be a rude awakening for the young kid from France."

"It's gonna be a long day at the office for Tony Parker."

After a missed jumper by the Sonics, Parker got the ball and took off.  Payton nearly tripped over his own feet trying to keep up.  The kid seemingly made it from one end of the court to the other in less than 2 seconds, with Payton far behind him.  On the next possession, the young kid from France got the ball at the 3-Point line. "The Glove" was in front of him in that famously low defensive stance.  Parker dribbled hard with his left, then crossed over right and flew past him for another layup.

I'll never forget that crossover.  At that time guys like Allen Iverson, Steve Francis, and Jason Williams were turning the crossover dribble into an art form.  They were masters of using their great handles, low center of gravity, head fakes, and quick first steps to get by their defenders.  This was something completely different.  There was no trickery.  No great ball handling.  Just pure speed.  Parker was standing upright and blew by the best perimeter defender in the NBA. He was the fastest guy I had ever seen and watching him play was like watching Usain Bolt run.

The kid was a blur.

Tony Parker's game has grown and developed throughout his illustrious 11 year career.  Shot blockers and charge takers set their sites on him so he developed the "tear drop floater" which has become his signature move.  Slower defenders would sag off him once he got within 20 feet of the rim so he developed a consistent outside shot.  Parker is still as fast as ever and makes a living attacking the rim.  He regularly ranks in the top 5 in points in the paint, a distinction normally reserved for giants like Shaquille O'Neal or Dwight Howard.  In 2005, Parker finished the season shooting over 54% from the field.  That was the first time since 1975 that a point guard had ranked in the top 3 in field goal percentage.  Tony Parker plays the game without fear and seeing him get knocked to the floor has become so commonplace that we take for granted how tough he is.  He ranks 3rd among active players for free throws attempted per 48 minutes in the Playoffs.

Tony Parker has been instrumental in the 3 championships he has won with the Spurs but for whatever reason, his greatness is not recognized by most fans outside of Texas.  Perhaps it's because he came into the league when it wasn't cool to be French.  Perhaps it's because he plays with the Spurs.  Perhaps it's because he made People's list of the "100 Most Beautiful People".  Perhaps it's because he was married to Eva Longoria and still felt the need to sleep with Brent Barry's wife.  Some people cannot root for a player that they are jealous of.  Others have a tough time divorcing a player's greatness on the court with their behavior off of it.

I don't have either hang up. In my opinion, great athletes don't have to be guys that you would want to drink a beer with or have date your kid sister.  An athlete's greatness is measured by what they accomplish in their given profession.  Tony Parker has accomplished a great deal.  He is a 4 time All-Star who has scored over 13,000 points and played in over 140 Playoff games.  He is currently the Spurs' all-time assist leader in both the Playoffs and the regular season.  Parker is 2nd only to Tim Duncan in Spurs all-time Playoff scoring and could surpass the future Hall of Famer one day.

Another great, yet equally unpopular champion famously said,

"To be the man, you gotta beat the man.  Whoooooooooo!"

I think that Ric Flair is on to something.

Throughout Parker's career, he has performed well against the best point guards the league has to offer.  He has outdueled guys like Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups, Stephon Marbury and Derek Fisher.  When asked what the key would be to defeating the Spurs in '05, Phil Jackson said that the Lakers would have to keep Tony Parker out of the paint to win the series.  They couldn't and as a result didn't.  Tony Parker absolutely dominated Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals and became the first European-born player to win the Finals MVP.

Tony Parker has shown no signs of slowing down, literally or figuratively.  This season has been his finest as a pro.  He is clearly the best player on what is arguably the best team in the Western Conference.  Last night, he outplayed Chris Paul, whom many consider to be the best point guard in the world.  Parker should go on to have many more years of playing at a high level.  I hope that when all is said and done, people will appreciate just how special he was and put that young kid from France in the Hall of Fame.

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