William Tony Parker Jr. was born on May 17, 1982, in Bruges, Belgium. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He lived most of his early life on the move as the son of a basketball vagabond. His father played professionally for 15 years in Europe, spending the bulk of his career in France. Among the cities the Parkers called home were Gravelines, Denain, Fécamp and Rouen.
Tony Sr. learned the game on the streets of Chicago. A talented shooting guard, he starred at Loyola University in the mid '70s, then headed across the Atlantic to pursue his pro hoops dreams. His first stop was Amsterdam, where he met Pamela Firestone, an aspiring fashion model. The two eventually married, and after the arrival of Tony, they welcomed two other sons, Terrence and Pierre.
Tony's father wasn't the only source of his basketball genes. His uncle on his mother's side was Jean-Pierre Staelens, a legendary figure in French hoops. He was instrumental in launching Tony Sr.’s European career.
Tony was 2-years-old when he picked up a basketball for the first time. Initially, he found soccer more intriguing. Strong, quick and coordinated, he was a superb scorer and believed he was destined for stardom on the pitch.
That began to change in the spring of 1991, after Tony's ninth birthday, when his athletic skills began to translate to the hardwood. Each summer the Parkers returned to Chicago to visit with Tony’s grandparents. In June of ’91, the Bulls were putting the finishing touches on their first NBA title. Tony was in awe of Michael Jordan and left the States with a new goal—he wanted to play in the NBA.
From the first time Tony saw Jordan, he idolized the high-flying superstar. But given his stature, he identified more with players like Isiah Thomas and Gary Payton, lightning-quick point guards who could both distribute the ball and score. Over the next few summers, Tony spent his Chicago visits polishing his game and working on his English—French was the language spoken in the Parker home once they returned to the continent.
by his son's decision to focus on basketball, Tony Sr. taught Tony
he knew about
the sport. The youngster's first taste of organized hoops came with a
club in Fécamp, and his passion for the game increased. Starting
in 1994, he spent two years with Deville-les-Rouen, then a season with
Mont Saint-Aignanin. In 1997, Tony’s name began to circulate in
European basketball circles when he was named MVP of the Salbris Junior
Tony's eye-opening performance with Centre Federal made him a hot commodity in France's more accomplished professional leagues. Upon finishing his studies at INSEP, he signed with Paris Saint-Germain Racing (which later changed its name to Paris Basket Racing) of the Pro A circuit. The experience taught him a lot about being a team player. For the first time in his career, Tony wasn't the focal point of his squad. In fact, he didn't even start. The backup to Laurent Sciarra, an ironman point guard, Tony worked hard in practice and observed his overstudy closely from his seat on the bench. By the end of the year, despite a lack of playing time, he had improved drastically.
More confident and polished, Tony joined France's national junior team for the European Championships. The 18-year-old guided the French to the title, earning MVP honors along the way. He also helped Paris Basket Racing to a second-place finish in the Coupe de France.
ON THE RISE
In the summer of 2000, with his reputation growing, Tony was invited to the Nike Hoop Summit in Indianapolis. There, before a coterie of pro scouts and college coaches, he put on a show, stealing the spotlight from other prepsters like Darius Miles, Zach Randolph and Omar Cook. In the marquee contest between American and European all-stars, he rang up 20 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals.
Tony's stunning U.S. debut launched a recruiting war between a handful of college powerhouses. UCLA and Georgia Tech appeared to have the inside track until Tony did an about-face. When Sciarra left PBR, he decided to remain in France to take over as the team's starting point guard. Tony blossomed in his new role, averaging 14.7 points and 5.6 assists. Though stocked with young, inexperienced talent, PBR snuck into the playoffs before being eliminated in the first round. Tony did not regret his decision to forego the bright lights of the NCAA for one instant.
Tony next led France's 20-and-under squad into the 2001 European Championships. Behind their scintillating 19-year-old, the French finished first in their division. Named MVP of the tournament, Tony topped everyone in scoring (25.8 ppg), assists (6.8 apg) and steals (6.8 spg).
As the 2001 NBA draft approached in June, interest in Tony steadily increased. While some talent evaluators clung to the belief that Europe couldn't produce a competent point guard, others like R.C. Buford were blown away by Tony's all-around game. San Antonio's assistant GM, Buford had attended the 2000 Nike Hoop Summit and gave a tape of the 6-1 point guard to coach and GM Gregg Popovich. Highly skeptical before viewing the video, Popovich became convinced that Tony was worth the gamble.
The Spurs, who had been building through trades and signings in recent years, had not made much headway in the draft. Their goal was to find a perimeter player they could develop, but the 2001 crop was very thin. With the last pick in the draft, the organization was hoping that Tony would go unnoticed. To the team's delight, his name was barely mentioned in the pre-draft buzz and predictions. The Spurs kept their fingers crossed until their selection, then announced his name.
Tony was elated to be selected by San Antonio. Wasting no time, he signed and flew to Colorado to play for the Spurs in the Rocky Mountain Revue, a summer league for NBA hopefuls. In four games, he averaged 18 points, nine assists, four rebounds and two steals. Just as impressive was the way he adjusted to his new surroundings, on and off the court. Tony wasn't the least bit bothered by the pace of play or size of his opponents. He also blended easily into American culture. The Spurs began to wonder whether they had lucked into a potential superstar.
Going into training camp, Tony was slotted as the back-up to Antonio Daniels, a fourth-year player who the Spurs hoped would come into his own at point guard. His backcourt mate was veteran Steve Smith, who was replacing Derek Anderson. Also new to the roster was forward Bruce Bowen, a defensive specialist with a decent outside jumper. Of course, the Spurs were built around Tim Duncan and David Robinson, the league's most formidable one-two punch in the paint. Riding the pine alongside Tony were veterans Terry Porter, Malik Rose, Danny Ferry and Stephen Jackson.
Four games into the 2001-02 campaign, San Antonio looked ragged. After a blowout loss in Sacramento, Popovich shook up the team and inserted Tony into the starting lineup. His impact was immediate. Tony pushed the tempo, getting the Spurs better shots by catching opponents in transition. He could also hit open jumpers, which created more space for the big men. Tony still had much to learn about running an NBA offense, but he always had (and usually took) the option of running plays through Duncan and Robinson. Both seemed re-energized by the rookie’s presence on the floor.
With Tony in charge, the team ripped off seven victories in a row and re-established itself as one of the best in the West. Less than a week after taking over for Daniels, Tony recorded a season-high of 22 points in a win at Charlotte. In December, he guided the Spurs to a mark of 11-3. After his first month in the league, he was averaging double-digits and nearly five assists a game.
As the season moved on, Tony's teammates continued to respond with him at the helm. Duncan benefitted from the rookie's surprising leadership as much as anyone. With more touches, his scoring and assist totals climbed, and he ended up winning the MVP.
Tony earned his fair share of postseason honors, too. Named to the All-Rookie First Team, he ranked in the Top 10 among NBA newcomers in nearly every significant statistical category, including scoring (8th at 9.2 points), assists (2nd at 4.3), steals (7th at 1.2), three-pointers (5th at 61) and minutes (5th at 29.4).
That's not to say Tony was immune to some of the typical rookie pitfalls. A sprained ankle landed him on the injured list for 10 days in January. When he returned to action, he hit the proverbial wall and struggled to find his running legs. After being selected to play in the the Rookie Challenge, Tony picked up his play and regained his stamina in the second half. In March, he logged 45 minutes in a two-point victory over the Houston Rockets, posting 16 points and 10 rebounds. Three weeks later he beat the Sonics in Seattle with a jumper late in the fourth quarter.
Tony’s defining moment as a rookie came against Utah. The Spurs and Jazz were locked in a battle for first place in the Midwest, and their final meeting would decide the division title. With the game tied and just a few seconds left, Tony took the ball the length of the court and dropped in a layup for an 86-84 victory.
At 58-24, San Antonio entered the postseason with high hopes. Tony knew there was a big difference between the kind of basketball played in the playoffs and what he had experienced in the regular season. He was hardly surprised when the Spurs’ first-round opponent, the Supersonics, gave them all they could handle. Tony was looking forward to going up against Gary Payton, one of his boyhood heroes, and torched him for 21 points (including three three-pointers) in the opener. The best-of-five series went the distance, with the Spurs prevailing despite an injury to Robinson. Tony finished with a 17.2 scoring average on 50 percent shooting.
An even sterner test came next, against the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. The underdog Spurs surprised L.A. at home by splitting the first two games, but Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant took over and the Spurs dropped the next three to end their season. Tony’s best performance came in a losing cause, when he lit up the Lakers for 20 in the first half of Game 3.
Although he had a way to go as a playmaker, Tony had erased any doubts about his ability to play in the NBA with his solid playoff debut. He spent the summer adding to his offensive repertoire, perfecting the follow-through on his jumper and developing a “tear-drop” floater he could launch when penetrating into the lane.
The Spurs also spent the offseason fine-tuning. Kevin Willis, Steve Kerr, Speedy Claxton and Emanuel Ginobili were all brought in to strengthen the bench. Though Smith was handed the starter's job at shooting guard, many believed his aging knees wouldn't hold up over the long haul, so Popovich readied Jackson for more minutes. Robinson's health was a bit of a question mark as well, which meant Rose's role would grow. The only certainty was Duncan, who again would be counted on to do the heavy lifting at both ends of the court.
San Antonio got off to a roaring start with an opneing-night victory over the Lakers in Los Angeles. Tony struggled in the win, missing all 10 of his shots from the field, but bounced back to assume a more active scoring role. In December, he recorded a pair of 32-point games to establish a new personal scoring mark. In just his second season, the player who flew under everyone else’s radar in 2001 was fast becoming the Spurs’ second option on offense.
The respect accorded Tony by enemy defenses had a ripple effect across the entire team. With the second-year point guard as a kick-out option, Duncan had even more room to maneuver, putting him on the way to another MVP season. Popovich, meanwhile, was able to play the defensive-minded Jackson more and could sub Rose for Robinson to keep his veteran center fresh. With freelance specialist Ginobili also logging big minutes off the bench, the team was coming together beautifully.
As the calendar turned to 2003, San Antonio truly hit its stride. In January and February, the club lost a total of just four games. The Spurs wound up with a record of 60-22, good for homecourt advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. Tony ended the campaign averaging 15.5 points and 5.3 assists. While he was shooting more, he was also hitting on a higher percentage of his attempts and going to the line more often. His increased production was a welcome reprieve for Duncan, who didn't have to carry the team by himself all the time. With the big guy feeling strong, the Spurs saw a chance to do some real damage in the playoffs.
The postseason provided its usual challenges, first in the form of the Phoenix Suns, who nearly toppled the Spurs. Tony had more than he could handle in Stephon Marbury, and San Antonio barely escaped with a five-game series win.
Next up were the big bad Lakers. The Spurs took the first two games at home, despite lackluster play on Tony’s part. When the series moved to L.A., he failed to pick up his game, and the Lakers knotted the best-of-seven series. Finally, in Game 5, Tony cut loose. Shooting with confidence, he helped the Spurs build a large third-quarter lead, then held on with the rest of his teammates as a furious Laker rally fell short. Tony had another superb outing in Game 6, teaming with Duncan to score 64 and spark a second-half wipeout of the defending champs, who saw their title run end at three in a row.
The Spurs squared
off against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, a series
that offered a compelling contrast in styles. San Antonio, perhaps the
league's top defensive team, favored a deliberate pace of play, while
the Mavericks preferred to race up and down the floor. Dallas surprised
the Spurs in Game 1 with a 113-110 victory, connecting on a record 49
of 50 free throws. Game 2 saw San Antonio even things up in convincing
fashion. Tony was one of the four Spurs to score in double figures.
San Antonio appeared to gain the upper hand when the series moved to Dallas. Tony and Duncan were unstoppable in Game 3, scoring 29 and 34, respectively, in a 96-83 win. But the bigger story was the knee injury suffered by Dirk Nowitzki. With the All-Star on the sidelines in Game 4, the Spurs won by seven points. Against a smaller lineup assembled by Dallas coach Don Nelson, Tony had an excellent night with 25 points and five assists.
Two days later the Spurs let the Mavericks back into the series. After building a big lead in the first half, they watched as the undermanned Mavs rallied for an improbable 103-91 victory behind a stellar performance by veteran Michael Finley. Tony shouldered some of the blame, shooting just three of 11 from the field and failing to put the clamps on opposing point men Steve Nash and Nick Van Exel. San Antonio gave Dallas a dose of its own medicine in Game 6, however, erasing a fat third-quarter deficit. With Tony struggling again, Popovich found an unlikely hero in Kerr, who nailed four three-pointers down the stretch to put the contest on ice. The Spurs were in the NBA Finals.
San Antonio was a decided favorite over the New Jersey Nets, mostly because of Duncan. Still, the Spurs did not figure the Nets would be pushovers. The team had won 10 straight post-season contests, and playmaker Jason Kidd could control the tempo of games like no other guard.
The Kidd-Parker match-up actually provided the series’ most interesting subtext: the veteran at the peak of his skills versus the hot, young newcomer. That, however, was only part of it—Kidd would be a free agent after the season, and the Spurs had the salary-cap space to sign him. If that happened, Parker might be shifted to two-guard, or he would bring a king’s ransom on the trading block. Kidd, meanwhile, had never played on a team with a dominant big man, so a San Antonio signing was something more than idle chatter.
What no one expected was that Tony would outperform Kidd, which is exactly what happened in the opene. Tony used his quick first step to blow past the New Jersey All-Star time and again in a convincing 101-89 win. He finished with 16 points and five assists.
Kidd picked up the gauntlet in Game 2. Although Tony topped the Spurs with 21 points, Kidd scored 30, including several important shots in the fourth quarter. Poor foul shooting by Duncan also cost the Spurs, as the Nets evened matters with an 87-85 victory. Afterwards, Kidd cracked that the only thing Tony did better than him was speak French.
scored 26 in Game 3 to key an 84-79 win by the Spurs, but again
Kidd responded. Two nights later he held Tony to just three points
an ugly 77-76 victory. To his frustration, Tony found himself on the bench
when San Antonio challenged late in the game, as Popovich turned to Claxton to lead the charge.
Tony gained some redemption in Game 5 —he played well and the
Spurs rode a fabulous effort by Duncan to go up by a game.
With the series back in San Antonio, the Nets took a big second-half lead in Game 6. When Tony began missing his shots and New Jersey clogged the passing lanes, Popvich sensed panic setting in and again turned to Claxton. The Spurs went on an amazing 19-0 run to win the NBA championship. Though disappointed in his own performance, Tony was on Cloud Nine. The taste of his first title was even sweeter than he ever imagined.
For Tony, the 2003 playoffs posed as many questions as they answered. He had his good games and his bad ones, but when the day was done he was the second-youngest point guard ever to guide his team to a championship. Though not a classic one-guard, he obviously had a lot of room to grow.
Starting the 2003-04 season, the Spurs felt they could repeat. Granted, only six players remained from the previous year, but the additions of Robert Horry, Charlie Ward, Ron Mercer, Jason Hart, Hedo Turkoglu and Rasho Nesterovic gave the club plenty of depth. Tony started the year on the sidelines, missing the first seven games due to a sprained left ankle. Once he returned, the Spurs began to roll. They entered December at 9-9, but ended the month at 22-10.
San Antonio resumed its fine play in January. Tony had big games in victories at Minnesota and L.A., going for nearly 30 in both. The young point guard showed the ability time and again to play up to his competition. He finished the regular season at 14.7 ppg and 5.5 apg.
The Spurs carried an 11-game post-season winning streak into the playoffs. The three seed in the West, they faced off against Memphis in the first round and bounced the Grizzlies with a four-game sweep. Tony picked it up to the tune of 21 points a night.
Next up were the Lakers in a series that many thought would decide the NBA champion. The Spurs seized control early, taking the first two games on their home floor. Tony bombarded L.A. with 20 points in the first one. His inside-outside game opened things up for Duncan, who dropped in 30. Tony was even better in Game 2, netting 30 himself.
When the series shifted to the Staples Center, the Lakers changed their defensive scheme. Shaq hunkered down in the paint, and the rest of Lakers shut down the perimeter. The effect on Tony was tangible, particularly when he started matching up against Bryant. L.A. won the next two.
The series dagger came in Game 5, with the Spurs up 73-72 after a miracle shot by Duncan. Unfortunately for San Antonio, Derek Fisher outdid him with an impossible twisting jumper with 0.4 seconds left on the clock. Back in Los Angeles, the Lakers sent the demoralized Spurs packing with an 88-76 victory. Tony's shooting stat line told the story. He connected on 21 of his first 32 attempts, but only 22 of his last 71.
MAKING HIS MARK
Tony shook off the disappointment of San Antonio's playoff loss to L.A. by enjoying his finest year as a pro in 2004-05. He shot better from the field, played a more opportunistic brand of defense and increased his scoring (16.6 ppg), rebounding (3.7 rpg) and passing (6.1 apg). More aggressive and more confident, Tony developed into the all-around leader the Spurs had been banking on. He was at his best over the campaign's final three months, after Popovich fiddled with the lineup and made Ginobili the team's sixth man. The move gave Tony a bit more freedom and responsibility, and he thrived in his enhanced role.
Tony's value to San Antonio was most evident during the postseason. After posting a 59-23 record, good for the second seed in the West, the Spurs entered the playoffs among the favorites to capture the NBA crown. Thanks to several off-season acquisitions, incuding the addition of Brent Barry, and a mid-season deal that brought over Nazr Mohammed, the team featured one of the league's most balanced rosters. The only question was Duncan, who was recovering from a sprained ankle. If he was 100%, or close to it, the Spurs figured to advance to the NBA Finals without too much trouble.
Their first-round matchup against the Nuggets went as planned. San Antonio took Denver in five games, with Tony going for 29 points and seven assists in the clincher. Next the Spurs disposed of the pesky Sonics, ending the series in Game 6 on the road. Tony was solid again, averaging nearly 18 points a contest and using his playoff experience to help unnerve Seattle point guard Luke Ridnour.
In the Western Conference Finals, San Antonio beat the run-and-gun Suns at their own game. Popovich let Tony and Ginobili force the tempo at their discretion, and the two responded with big efforts. Tony poured in 29 points in Game 1 and 24 in Game 2, as the Spurs won twice in Phoenix. Though San Antonio dropped Game 4 at home, the club was never really challenged, closing out the Suns two days later.
In the NBA Finals against the Pistons, Tony was often the X-factor that Detroit had no answer for. Duncan was the focal point of the offense, but it was San Antonio's perimeter attack that gave him the operating room he needed. The series went the distance, with the Spurs claiming their third title with a workmanlike victory in Game 7. While Tony's numbers against the Pistons didn't jump off the stat page, his poise under Detroit's constant defensive pressure and his ability to pump in key baskets didn't go unnoticed by his teammates.
It also didn't go unnoticed by actress Eva Longoria. The two had begun dating in 2004, and their relationship blossomed from there. Eva could be found courtside at every meaningful Spurs game. Tony often accompanied her on the red carpet for Hollywood events. The couple quickly became one of the world's most glamorous.
Tony, in turn, took the court in 2005–06 looking better than ever. It showed in his numbers, as he lifted his scoring average to 18.9—eclipsing Duncan as the Spurs’ top scorer—and shot 54.8 percent from the field, putting him head and shoulders above all NBA guards in this category. He also played in his first All-Star Game.
The addition of Michael Finley gave San Antonio another scoring option, which took some pressure off the sore-footed Duncan and translated into four extra wins. The Spurs edged the improving Mavericks by three games in the Southwest Division.
It was a different story in the playoffs, however. After disposing of the Sacramento Kings in six games, the Spurs faced the Mavs in an epic seven-game struggle. Duncan was magnificent, but Nowitzki and company prevailed. Tony averaged over 21 points in the playoffs, but Dallas was the better team when it counted, winning two games in overtime, including the finale.
Tony was selected for the All-Star Game for a second time in 2006–07 and continued to elevate his level of play. His decision-making with the ball was almost flawless, and his tear-drop jumper became one of the NBA’s signature scoring plays. At 20.8 points and 5.8 assists, he enjoyed perhaps his finest season as a pro. The Spurs fashioned an impressive 58-24 mark but finished behind the Mavericks in the division. After dropping their first playoff game to the Nuggets, they took four straight.
San Antonio's second-round meeting with the Suns became the focal point of the Western Conference playoffs, especially after the Golden State Warriors dropped the Mavericks in the first round. In Game 1 of the Phoenix series, Tony and Steve Nash went head-to-head—literally—as a bloody Nash had to take a seat at crunch time. The Spurs won the game and went on to claim a hard-fought series. In the Western Conference Finals, they beat the surprising Utah Jazz four games to one.
Prior to the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Tony told his father that he felt he could dominate the series. He was overwhelmikngly confident despite the fact that Cleveland had won both of their previous meetings that season.
The Cavs realized in Game 1 that they had no one who could guard Tony, and he torched them for 27 points in an 85–75 victory. Game 2 was a blowout, and again Tony was San Antonio's high scorer, with 30 points. Game 3 was an ugly, low-scoring affair, but the Spurs prevailed again, 75–72. Tony was his team's high scorer for a third time.
The Spurs polished off the Cavs in Game 4, fending off a second-half rally to win 83–82. Tony helped spearhead a 12–3 run that put the Spurs back in control. When the final buzzer sounded, there was little doubt about the series MVP. Tony, who netted 24 in the finale, was the no-brainer choice. He averaged 24 points on 57 percent shooting against Cleveland and proved the difference-maker as the Spurs swept to their fourth NBA title.
Tony celebrated another life-changing event in July of '07 when he and Eva tied the knot in a lavish ceremony at a 17th century castle in France. VIP guests Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher, Sheryl Crow, Jessica Alba, Ryan Seacrest and soccer star Thierry Henry were among those in attendance.
With three rings at age 26 and now half of a high-profile celebrity couple, the pressure was on Tony to assume a greater leadership role on the Spurs. This he did in 2007–08, turning in another solid season, averaging 18.8 points and 6.0 assists a night. The Spurs took care of the Suns in the first round, with Tony leading the way. He averaged close to 30 points in the series, outplaying Steve Nash in a five-game victory.
Tony went up against Chris Paul and the Hornets in the next round. New Orleans led the series 2–0 and 3–2, but the Spurs prevailed in seven games for a return trip to the Western finals. Tony’s clutch jumper late in the fourth quarter helped the Spurs halt a Hornets comeback. San Antonio’s bid to defend its title ended in the next round against the Lakers. A poor call on an obvious foul at the end of Game 4 kept the Spurs from tying the series, and the Lakers won Game 5 to finish them off.
The pressure mounted on Tony in 2008-09, as Ginobili was injured much of the season. He responded with a career-best 22 points a game and upped his assists to 6.9. The short-handed Spurs finished with 58 wins, but they did not have the depth to survive in the playoffs. For the first time in Tony’s career, the team bowed out in the opening round, falling to the Mavericks in five games.
Ginobili returned to action in 2009–10, but Tony was MIA for two months with a bad knee. He played in just 56 contests, and his numbers fell across the board. The Spurs still won 50 games and finished second in their division, earning a return match with the Mavs in the opening round of the playoffs. San Antonio avenged the previous spring’s defeat in six games. The Spurs took two close games at home with great contributions from everyone, including George Hill, a second-year guard who had filled in for Tony while he was injured. Unfortunately, a promising postseason came apart in the second round, as the Suns swept the Spurs.
The 2010–11 edition of the Spurs topped 60 wins and won their division. The Big Three led the way, with Tony averaging a team-best 17.5 points and 6.6 assists per game. Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair filled out the starting five. San Antonio fans, knowing their trio of superstars was getting a bit long in the tooth, were rooting hard for one last championship run. But the team showed its age in the playoffs, falling to a young and energetic Memphis team in six games. It wasn’t even that close—the Spurs needed a miracle 3-pointer from Gary Neal in Game 5 just to stay alive in the series. San Antonio’s defeat marked just the second time in NBA history that a #8 conference seed had upended a #1 seed.
Despite predictions of a performance drop-off, the Spurs just kept chugging along. In the truncated 2011–12 campaign, Gregg Popovich’s club finished with a 50–16 record—best in the West and tied with the Bulls for the league’s top mark. It was San Antonio’s 13th straight 50-win season—a new record for the NBA. Tony averaged 18.3 pints per game and 7.7 assists—a new personal high. At season’s end he received four votes as league MVP, finishing fifth overal.
The aging Spurs went into the playoffs red-hot, winners of their final 10 games. They swept the Jazz in the first round, with Tony leading the team in scoring in each of the first three contests. He got the job done on defense, too, coming up with a fourth-quarter steal that closed out Game 4. The Spurs were no less effective against the upstart Clippers. They won four straight games against Los Angeles to make it 18 in a row, including the regular season. Tony led the Spurs in points ion Games 2 and 3, and was the high assist man in each game and in the series, with 31.
The Spurs faced Kevin Durant and the Thunder in the conference finals. The path to the NBA Finals seemed clear after San Antonio took the first two games. Tony netted 34 in Game 2, which the Spurs won 120–11. Unfortunately, that was the team’s final victory of the year. Oklahoma City found a new gear and the Spurs could not respond. They overcame Tony’s 29-point, 12-assist performance in Game 6 to take the series.
When the 2012–13 started, Tony, Duncan and Ginobili had logged 33 NBA seasons between them. According to the experts, something had to give. But Popovich did a brilliant job mixing in young talent like second-year forward Kawhi Leonard, journeyman Corey Mills and Brazilian import Tiago Splitter. It was Tony’s job to make it all work, and this he did to the tune of 58 victories. Along the way, he led San Antonio with 20.3 points and 7.6 assists per game.
The Spurs went into the postseason with new purpose and focus. They would have to overcome talented young teams to make it back to the NBA Finals, and they knew the experts were right about one thing—this might have been their last chance with the Big Three still playing like stars. They handled the Lakers, minus Bryant, with ease, sweeping their opening-round series. Tony led the club in scoring in three of the four games.
Next up were the Warriors, led by Stephen Curry. In Game 1, he torched the Spurs for 44 points, but San Antonio prevailed in double-overtime. After dropping Game 2 and losing homecourt advatnage, the Spurs responded by taking three of the next four games to move into the Western Conference Finals. There they encountered the talented young Grizzlies. But this time there would be no upset—San Antonio dismantled Memphis in four. Tony scored 37 in the finale.
The Spurs rested and watched as the Heat went the full seven against the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals. Miami had a Big Three of its own—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. What they did not have was a player who could stay with Tony on his drives to the basket or on his pick-and-rolls with Duncan and Splitter. Given the Heat’s tough time with the Pacers and this one particular mismatch in San Antonio’s favor, many experts were not only giving the Spurs a fighting chance—they were picking them to win it all.
In Game 1, in Miami, Tony was nothing short of sensational. By the end of the game, the Heat had James trying to guard him, but Tony just rubbed him off on picks and screens. He was the high scorer with 21 points, the final two of which, somewhat fittingly, came on a wild bank-shot on a play that beat Bosh, Wade and James. The ball left Tony’s hand with less than a second on the shot clock on a wild possession that saw him dribble in and out of trouble and nearly lose the ball a couple of times. It put the final nail in the coffin of a 92–88 road win with five seconds to go.
San Antonio dropped Game 2, but bounced back for a big win in Game 3. Green was the star, making seven of nine 3-pointers. Again, the Heat evened the series, this time with an easy victory in Game 4. But the Spurs were too much on their home court in Game 5. Tony led the way with 26 points and got lenty of help from Ginobli, Duncan and Green.
Game 6 was a thriller that left the Spurs drained. Up by double-digits in the third quarter, they watched as the Heat came storming back to take the lead. But clutch baskets by Tony and Duncan sent the contest into overtime. Miami prevailed on the strength of a couple of stunning 3-pointers by James and Allen. The NBA Finals headed to Game 7.
Plays like the one that Tony made in Game 1 will live forever on video, but it is the sustained excellence that will almost certainly vault Tony into the Hall of Fame. He grew into his role as a team leader as well as anyone could have expected, and now in the final years of his career has maintained his status as a Top 5 NBA guard with an ever-widening skill set and ever-expanding understanding of the pro game.
TONY THE PLAYER
Tony has terrific court vision and runs the break well—though he is as much a scorer as he is a passer. That being said, he knows how to distribute the ball and get everyone involved in the offense. As the point guard on a team with the league’s best all-around player, Tony’s job when he started with the Spurs was viewed as feeding Tim Duncan the ball. It took a while for opponents to realize how much more Tony was accomplishing in what appeared to be a limited role.
By the time they figured it out, it was too late. For a solid decade, San Antonio’s offense is triggered almost entirely by Tony’s decision-making. He looks to create scoring opportunities for himself with his quickness, or create panic in the defense that leads to opportunities for his teammates. When the shots aren't there, he’ll back out and restart the half-court offense, either with an initiating pass or a pick-and-roll.
Tony is fearless. Despite a fragile frame, he will challenge big men, especially when they cover him on a defensive switch. He is a nifty passer and a solid defender, and usually comes up with a key rebound or two every game.
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