SAN ANTONIO – Through these city streets, where the San Antonio Spurs just had the championship parade, Tim Duncan chauffeured Jason Kidd on his recruiting trip. Four years ago, Duncan drove him in his car to dinner for the final sell, the two stars meeting Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and general manager R.C. Buford at a posh San Antonio restaurant.
Tony Parker was out of the country that July weekend, out of mind. The Spurs cleared the cap space for a $90 million offer and spent a year researching so they could climb inside the mind of the New Jersey Nets star. For months, Popovich had assured Parker that the front office and coaching staff believed the two could exist together in San Antonio's backcourt. They assured the 21-year-old that they weren't signing Kidd to eventually trade Parker.
"My plan was to keep him," Buford said. "In my mind, guys like Tony, Tim, Jason and Manu (Ginobili) can play with anybody."
Back then, Parker wasn't sold on the scenario.
Four years later, nothing has changed.
"I don't want to think about it," Parker said Friday, "but if he came here, I don't think I would be in San Antonio."
Looking back, Kidd's spurning of San Antonio turned out to be the threshold where these Spurs truly began to belong to Parker. He was unstoppable with 27 points in Game 1 of the NBA finals on Thursday. He has grown into one of the best little-man finishers in the sport's history, developing an uncanny knack to get shots to flutter over long arms and into the net. Maybe he'll never be a three-point shooter, but his mid-range game is devastating. And along the way, he's become a pillar of poise.
Parker has come a long, long way from the soft French 19-year-old whom Popovich had to be sold on drafting with the 28th pick in 2001.
"I came so young, so it was a little bit like father and son," Parker said Friday. "He was always hard on me. He always screamed at me and tried to push me because I (was) a little nonchalant in practice, and a bit lazy. And even if I play great, he always thinks that I can be perfect."
Across most of the 2002-03 season, though, Parker nodded when Popovich talked to him about Kidd, told Popovich that he understood the reasons and welcomed the chance to play with him. They met in the '03 NBA finals, Parker outplayed Kidd on the way to the second championship in franchise history, and he finally called Johnny Ludden, the Spurs' beat writer for the San Antonio Express-News, to unload.
"I know I'm the best point guard for this team," Parker told the newspaper. "I can lead this team. I know deep down in my heart I can. I'm only 21, but I'm going to get better.
"I love Pop. He's like a second father to me. Pop gave me my chance to start and everything. That's why I was so diplomatic. That's why I had a hard time trying to be clear with him. I was young and a little bit scared talking. I didn't want to cause problems. I didn't want to say nothing during the season and distract the team because we were trying to win a championship. But I always thought if we won the championship, we wouldn't get Jason."
The Spurs still tried desperately to sign him, and nearly did. In the end, Kidd always felt funny about making the leap to a team that had just beaten the Nets for the NBA title. He always felt it would look like he had climbed on the gravy train. What's more, his estranged wife, Joumana, had little desire to move to San Antonio. At the time, New Jersey had won back-to-back Eastern Conference titles and had a core of Kidd, Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson.
Since then, Kidd, at times, has regretted it. Never the Spurs, though.
"That never happened, so I'm happy about that," Duncan said.
With Kidd's contract, there's no guarantee San Antonio could've signed Ginobili. Maybe the Spurs would've had to trade Parker. Kidd is brilliant, a Hall of Famer, but it's hard to make the case that they would've had more success with him. Ginobili has been a terrific player here. More than that, he sells tickets in a city where the Latin-American population has embraced his Argentinean heritage.
Now, San Antonio has won two titles with Parker and Ginobili playing important parts with Duncan. They're on the way to a third. Parker has grown into one of the best point guards on the planet. Popovich has ridden him hard, turning him into a true extension of the coach on the court. Once Kidd turned them down, Popovich had truly turned the running of these Spurs over to Parker.
That summer in 2003, Popovich traveled to France to visit Parker. He laid out everything that would be expected of him as San Antonio's point guard. "Pop had been honest with Tony for a year," Buford said. "There was nothing that caught Tony off guard. … I think that's the real beauty of Pop and his relationship with his players. That's one of Pop's gifts."
Now, Parker is 25 years old and practically peerless at his position. No, the Spurs were never thrilled to hear Parker defy them publicly on the push for Kidd in July of '03, but he was right. Kidd is Kidd, but over and over, Tony Parker has made his case that he was the best point guard to run this dynasty.