by ANDREW MENCIAS
IT'S tough to figure out where Tony Parker, the San Antonio Spurs legend who just called it a career, stands in the pantheon of NBA greats.
Despite being a bona fide winner, and a ball-handling wizard, Parker’s best asset was arguably his ability to bring out the best in others. The Frenchman was a true point guard - essentially Gregg Popovich’s vessel on the court - that spearheaded the march of four Spurs championships. And because of Parker’s greatness as a floor general, we tend to forget just how good he was on his own.
It's time to correct that, ladies and gents. Here then are Tony Parker's top nine plays of all-time, our salute to career well-played.
If Parker’s signature floaters and layups were the "bread," his dizzying spin move was the "butter" — and we really could’ve put any spin move here. But we chose this one where he took it right in between fellow Euros Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon. A great example of how Parker could find open space in unseen yet perfect places.
You’ll see a few more clips from Tony Parker in the 2012-13 NBA season on this list, beginning with this circus shot against the Golden State Warriors, the then-unproven crew that went on to become the most dominant force in the Playoffs for the rest of the decade. Tony took advantage of that inexperience in this series, highlighted by this trick shot that looked more like someone getting pushed in a swimming pool than it does a basketball shot. But hey, at the expense of a still totoy Steph, Klay, and Draymond, Tony somehow made it work.
This one was a sign of things to come. A little bit of context - this shot happened in the second game of the 2012-13 season. In the game before this, Parker hit a clutch three that beat the Pelicans. But he topped that a game later with this dagger three versus the then-defending Western Conference Champs Oklahoma City Thunder. Hitting this game-winner in just the team's second game was a good omen not just for him but a Spurs team that would end up making the NBA Finals.
Speaking of the NBA Finals, this is one of Tony Parker’s at his most cold-blooded. With the best player in the world hovering over him, Tony Parker hit a step-back three to put the Spurs up by one. Had everything gone according to plan, this would’ve been the undisputed number one on this list, as it would’ve won the Spurs an NBA title. But of course, history didn’t work out that way, because a minute later, Ray Allen hit one of the greatest shots in NBA history, which allowed the Heat to take the title the next game.
It’s easy to forget how great Parker was on his own. After all, we're talking about a 4-time All-NBA Teamer and 6-time All-Star here. This game proved that Parker could carry a team on his own just fine, scoring a career-high 55 points and dishing out 10 assists to boot.
Do you remember Francisco Elson? If you don’t, perhaps not even Francisco Elson would blame you. But the Spurs and Gregg Popovich’s system have always been a place where underdog stories unfold — and having a textbook point guard like Park could certainly help bring that about. This bounce pass that squeaked through defenders sure made Elson look like Shaquille O'Neal for a few brief seconds. They say the greatness of a leader is measured by making others better, and Parker making Elson look like money was no exception.
The 2007 NBA Finals was Parker’s finest hour. The Spurs swept a Cavs team bannered by a young Lebron. Parker, the series's leading scorer, was named Finals MVP, an achievement that wouldn't have been possible without this deadly pull-up to bring the Spurs even closer to a sweep. Parker’s three weren’t the final points of the Spurs here. But this three happened during a crucial moment in the Spurs' destruction of the Cavaliers.
While most of us know and love Parker for his time with the Spurs, it would do him a disservice if we didn’t bring up his international career. Parker was a 2013 EuroBasket MVP, and two-time FIBA Europe Player of the Year. He was also, at one point, the all-time leading scorer in EuroBasket history. That feat happened during this 2015 edition of the EuroBasket tournament. Parker ended the second half scoring nine straight points in the last two minutes of a half.
Parker also graced his presence on Philippine soil in 2016 for the Olympic Qualying Tournament where he taught a thing or two to the Gilas Pilipinas guards.
Here was Parker in Endgame. Though all looked lost after two failed pick-and-roll plays, this play could’ve ended all sorts of bad for Parker. But as the shot clock ran down, and as LeBron James smothered him all over, the blood of angry men came pulsing through Tony Parker and he scored a difficult bank shot after falling to the ground and losing control of the ball four times. This play was proof that if you trust this future Hall of Famer to save you, all he has to do is snap.