The ongoing Olympic men’s basketball tournament in Rio de Janeiro figured to be the swan song for several of the best non-American players in the sport’s history. Pau Gasol of Spain, Manu Ginobili of Argentina and Tony Parker of France (coincidentally all members of the San Antonio Spurs) are all nearing the ends of their basketball careers and are unlikely to compete in international play either in 2019’s FIBA Basketball World Cup or the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Now that the elimination round has started, any game could be the last for these stars.
That proved to be the case for Parker on Thursday. Following France’s blowout loss at the hands of Gasol-led Spain, the 34-year-old point guard announced his retirement from international play. From Tom Withers of the Associated Press:
”I just took a lot of pride playing for the national team,” said the 34-year-old Parker, who scored 14 in his final game. ”I just love playing in this competition. I love this atmosphere, which is very different than the NBA. Growing up, my dream was to win an NBA championship. That was my ultimate goal. But as I grew up, I fell in love with the national team.
”We won the gold medal in juniors when I was 18. So then my goal was to try to bring the first national team ever championship for France, and we did that in 2013. Overall, just great experiences. I enjoyed it all these years. These last 16 years have been great. I don’t regret one second.” […]
”I think we put French basketball on the map,” he said.
”Let me just say that I’ve been honored to play against Tony Parker throughout so many years on the national team,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. ”He’s a great competitor and it was so tough to prepare games versus him.” […]
Parker’s international career is a bit of a mixed bag, but he will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best FIBA players of this era. France never won an Olympic or FIBA World Cup medal with Parker leading the national team, but he paced them to victory at EuroBasket 2013, won silver in the 2011 incarnation of the tournament and won bronze in 2005 and 2015 (the latter in France). Parker also led EuroBasket in scoring in 2011 and 2013.
[Featured: The nine lives of Rulon Gardner]
It’s very arguable that the team’s major-tournament struggles had more to do with factors beyond his control, such as injuries – Parker has never participated in the World Championships – and the depth of talent. It perhaps hurts his legacy that France won bronze at the World Cup in 2014 without Parker, but it’s also hard to believe he wouldn’t have helped them if he had been healthy. It’s not as if the four-time NBA champion lacks a winner’s mentality.
Parker’s legacy will be determined by what he has done for basketball in France, as well. As the nation’s first true global superstar in the sport, he helped to bring more of his countrymen to the NBA and inspire young athletes to take up hoops. His international career will be remembered for some time, and not just because he’s still active for the Spurs.
– – – – – – –