As France meets defending champion Spain for the 2011 EuroBasket title match on Sunday, aolsportingnews.com provided a feel good story about San Antonio Spurs guard and French superstar Tony Parker.
There will be familiar names up and down the rosters of the French and Spanish national teams — Pau and Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka, Rudy Fernandez, Boris Diaw, Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum.
But other than seeing those guys in action, this will be a game worth watching, because it will tell us a lot about the guy who has come to define French basketball in the last decade, for better or for worse: Tony Parker.
NBA fans, of course, know what kind of brilliance Parker is capable of on the floor. He is among the quickest players in the league with the ball, and his ability to finish at the rim is uncanny for a point guard.
He has made three All-Star teams, won three championships and averages 16.7 points over his career.
Yet, few would argue that when it comes to winning and losing for the San Antonio Spurs, the hierarchy over the years has gone Tim Duncan first and Manu Ginobili second, with Parker firmly in third behind those two.
Parker isn’t seen as the leader on the Spurs, and his career with the French national team has, similarly, been one that reflects awesome talent but a lack of leadership.
Parker has played for France in all six EuroBasket tournaments going back to 2001, and he became captain of the team in ’03. But France’s track record in that time has been one of underachievement.
That started in ’03, when France held a 70-65 lead against Lithuania late in the semifinals, only to go scoreless the rest of the way, allowing Lithuania a 74-70, come-from-behind win. Parker had 24 points, but the play that stands out is an unforced turnover he committed with 15.9 seconds to play with the game on the line.
Parker got France back to the semis in ’05, but again, the team showed no sign of execution down the stretch— and came up with an even more disturbing choke than the ’03 showing. France led by seven points with 47 seconds to go in the game against Greece, and though Parker led his team with 20 points, it was his late-game failures that opened the way for the French collapse. He missed two free throws with 38 seconds to play, then committed a turnover with 30 seconds left.
At least in those EuroBaskets, France was competitive.
In ’07 and ’09, the team was knocked out in the quarterfinals, losing by 20 to Spain in ’09.
Here in 2011, at age 29, Parker seems determined to put that sad-sack legacy behind him.
With a scoring average of 21.6 points, Parker has a strong case for tournament MVP. He does have the best group around him he has had so far, with Noah in the middle, Batum red-hot from the wing, Boris Diaw chipping in and his good friend Nando De Colo doing a nice job filling in for the hobbled Mickael Gelabale.
That group should provide some worthwhile matchups against Spain in the gold medal game. Noah will have his hands full with the two Gasols inside, because Diaw simply isn’t big enough to match up.
But most likely, France’s chance at gold will boil down to Parker, who will face a quality defensive guard in Rubio.
By getting France to this point, Parker has already helped soothe his battered legacy on the European stage. But if he can push his team to a win over Spain, if he can show the kind of leadership and late-game gumption that have been so glaringly missing from his track record as France’s captain, he will completely reverse the unflattering international reputation he and his team has forged. No single player has more riding on this game than Parker.