San Antonio has been home for Tony Parker since the Spurs selected the 19-year-old French guard with the No. 28 pick of the 2001 NBA Draft. Over the next 17 seasons, Parker evolved into one of the world’s best players as he helped San Antonio win four NBA championships from 2003-14.
Parker’s time in San Antonio ended this summer when he agreed to a two-year contract with the Charlotte Hornets. This move signaled the end of an era in San Antonio, which has seen plenty of change since Tim Duncan’s retirement in 2016.
Despite the change of scenery, San Antonio will forever hold a special place in Parker’s heart, according to his letter published in The Players’ Tribune. In the letter, Parker writes about his Draft tryout with the Spurs, learning from Tim Duncan and coach Gregg Popovich, and how “Spurs Culture” shaped his career:
People talk about “Spurs Culture” a lot … so much that I think sometimes you can almost lose sight of what it means. But even with all of this talk, there are certain moments from my time in San Antonio that still really stand out — and I think help me to understand what is the difference, and great privilege, of having come up in this league as a Spur.
One of the things about coming up as a young player on a veteran team, a team that has already won a championship and has a goal in mind to win more of them, is that there is not this same room for error that you might get as a young player drafted to a lottery team — where they can just say to you, “O.K., don’t worry about the rest, we will just focus on your development this year.” And yes, it’s true: with the Spurs, we were built to win. Winning was the most important thing. But what I will always remember, and always be grateful for during those years, is how — even with these priorities — somehow my development was never left behind.
The veterans took me under their wing right away. They just always made room for it — and I don’t mean in these huge, obvious, “stop everything and teach the French kid about the meaning of life” kind of ways. Just very subtle things: a quick lesson here, a short conversation there.
Of course, the biggest reason why Spurs Culture exists … this is pretty simple, isn’t it? We had one of the best players of all time, for 19 seasons, in Tim. But the thing with Tim is that he wasn’t only the greatest player for those years. He was also the greatest teammate. O.K., maybe this is a cliché. But I don’t think people realize how much of our team’s entire culture could really be brought back to just Tim being Tim. That’s the truth.
Here’s an example: People would always ask about why the guys on our teams were so coachable — about how we always seemed to squeeze nearly the best results possible from any player who came through our organization. And how, when new guys would come here, they would seem to just sort of magically get better, you know, or transform their work ethic, or get rid of this one flaw that had been holding their game back. And I tell people, always, that this wasn’t magic. I tell them that we had an elite coaching staff, an elite training staff, sure. I tell them that we obviously had a one-of-a-kind head coach in Pop. But if you want to know the thing that set us apart the most in these situations? It’s Timmy, man. It really was Timmy. Simple as that.
Because here’s the thing with Tim Duncan: Was he the greatest player of all time? I don’t know — he’s the greatest I ever played with, I’ll say that, and I’ll let the experts take it from there. But here’s one thing I’ll tell you, absolutely: Timmy was the most coachable great player of all time.
Parker also shines light on how coach Popovich’s influence helped him have the courage to put team before individual last season:
The last “Pop decision” of my Spurs career, I’ll say, I think it’s very telling — because it was like the shoe now was on the other foot. This time it was Dejounte who was playing my role, as the young Spurs point who was going to get some news. And then it was almost like, for this one, I was the Pop figure leading the conversation now.
I came up to Pop one day, and I told him my thoughts: It was time for Dejounte to take over full-time as our starting point guard. I didn’t want it to be a dramatic thing, or this ego thing, or one of these big media things, but I just wanted to get it out in the open — for the good of Dejounte’s development, and for the good of the team. Pop agreed, and thanked me. And then I went and had the same conversation with Dejounte. He was grateful.
Was it bittersweet? You know what, I’m not trying to seem like a robot here or anything, but it really wasn’t. It’s a discipline thing, I think. That’s just kind of the way that I was raised, and how I’ve grown up as a player — to always stay moving forward. Of course don’t get me wrong: every now and then, you know, Manu and Timmy and I, we’ll get together for dinner … and when this happens, for sure, then it’s time for a little bit of nostalgia. You can’t help it — and we have this great time, sharing all these great memories back and forth. But when it’s in-season? And I’m in work mode? When you’re in work mode in this league, I think, you have to be pretty disciplined: about letting the present stay the present, and the past stay the past.
And so that’s how I tried to keep that moment. I wanted Dejounte to know that he’d earned it — but also that what the decision came down to, in the end, was the exact same thing that it would always come down to during his time in San Antonio: the good of the Spurs.
In his final season with the Spurs, Parker played 55 games averaged 7.7 points and 3.5 assists. During his career, the six-time All-Star and 2007 Finals MVP averaged 15.8 points and 5.7 assists. He was part of 137 playoff wins with Popovich, the second most by any coach and player in NBA history. Popovich and Duncan combined for 157 playoff wins.
In the wake of Parker’s departure from the Spurs, Popovich soon thereafter released a statement on the impact the point guard had on the franchise.
“It’s difficult to put into words how important Tony Parker has been to the Spurs franchise over the past two decades,” Popovich said. “From his first game in 2001 at age 19, TP has impressed and inspired us – day-after-day, game-after-game, season-after-season – with his passion, dedication and desire. We are grateful to Tony for 17 years of truly amazing memories. While the four championships, six All-Star appearances and four All-NBA selections highlight his resume, the biggest joy for me has been to have the pleasure of watching TP grow up before our eyes. All of us in the Spurs organization will miss having Tony in our program and wish him and his family the best as he continues his remarkable career in Charlotte.”
Parker hoped to make it an even 20 seasons with the Spurs, which would require the team to re-sign him for three years. Parker willingly gave up his starting role to youngster Dejounte Murray last season.
Alongside Duncan and Manu Ginobili, Parker comprised the Spurs’ “Big Three” for many years. But Duncan has retired, Parker is now gone and Ginobili’s status for next season is unknown.
Parker has also appeared in 17 consecutive postseasons; only Karl Malone and John Stockton’s run of 19 straight playoff trips are longer.
The move reunites Parker with new Charlotte coach James Borrego, who most recently was an assistant in San Antonio. And Parker is close friends with Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum, who predictably was thrilled by the news.
”Number 9, I see you soon in Buzz City my big bro,” Batum wrote on Twitter.
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