|Tony Parker has now scored the third-most points in the history of EuroBasket and could realistically be topping the list come Sunday evening |
By Dimitris Kontos
On Wednesday, by collecting a game-high 27 points in the quarter-final against Slovenia, Tony Parker became the third-highest scorer in EuroBasket history.
The French point guard has scored 952 points in the competition and now trails Germany's Dirk Nowitzki by 31 points and Greece's Nikos Galis by 76 points on the all-time scorers' list.
This is not however the greatest achievement of the biggest star of French basketball.
Nor are his three NBA rings, his MVP award on the other side of the Atlantic or the fact that he has played for the senior French national team almost every summer since 2001 and has led the nation to both their EuroBasket medals during this time.
Tony Parker is, above all, a great sportsman and a national treasure not only for France but for European basketball.
"Spain aren't dirty, it's a great rivalry between us," Parker told a room packed with journalists from all over Europe on the eve of the first semi-final at EuroBasket 2013.
"I'm good friends with Pau [Gasol], we always talk about our games.
"It's one of those rivalries where you'll talk a lot about it when you're retired."
"I always joke with Pau that if it weren't for his generation, I'd have a lot more gold medals."
Spain beat France in the final of EuroBasket 2011 to conquer their second consecutive EuroBasket title.
With the exception of one win of little significance during the group stages of the 2010 World Championship, France have not defeated their neighbours since the bronze-medal game of EuroBasket 2005.
"They [Spain] are the best team in Europe for the last six-seven years," Parker stated.
"We have a lot of respect for Spain, they are where we want to be.
"Since I started with the national team, we've had four or five semi-finals.
"We've come closer ever year, we've won the bronze and the silver medal.
"Now I'm just missing the nicest medal.
"But we'll try and do the best for our team. We have another opportunity to try and beat them."
RICKY TAKE CARE
|"When I retire he's the one who is going to have to take care of the European point guards in the NBA," says Tony Parker of Ricky Rubio|
France will need Parker at his very best if they are to finally break the spell against Spain on Friday in Ljubljana, but the battle-hardened veteran knows it's not going to be easy.
"They have four point guards and they alternate on me the whole game," he said.
"They did that on me two years ago [at EuroBasket 2011] and then last year in the Olympics.
"I expect the same thing.
"I'm used to it in the NBA. They always try to throw a lot of big defenders on me.
"You're going to get tired in a game. It's a long tournament, three weeks, a lot of games.
"But I have to just trust my teammates.
"We're going to try. We hope one day it's going to turn and it will go our way.
"But at the same time, Spain is a very good team and they were better than us in 2009 and 2011.
"[There can be no surprises] we both know each other very well.
"It's all going to be about how well we come out with energy, how well we play. We've played against them every year."
One of those men that Spain will throw on Parker will most probably be Ricky Rubio.
"I love to play against him, he's a great defender, he's got great hands," Parker said of the young Spaniard.
"It's challenging when I play against him in the NBA. I like his game.
"He's one of the young point guards coming up.
"When I retire he's the one who is going to have to take care of the European point guards in the NBA," he laughed.
|Tony Parker is greatful to the Spurs for always allowing him to play for France. "They know that I love playing for my country. I take a lot of pride playing for France." |
Parker is a seasoned champion himself and in Spain, he can recognise all the signs of title-winning sides, just like the ones he's played for at San Antonio.
"The mentality that they [Spain] have, to be ready for the big games, reminds me of the Spurs," the French star said.
"They just know how to win. There's that attention to details and what's important to win games.
"The way everybody touches the ball, the way everybody is aggressive and plays great defence, that's what I try to teach to the young guys in my team, to explain to them that every detail is important if you want to beat a good team like Spain."
San Antonio are an example off the court as well, and European fans collectively probably owe a great thanks to the club, as no less than three French internationals as well as Marco Belinelli of Italy, who joins the team this season, are competing at the EuroBasket in Slovenia.
"I have a great relationship with the Spurs," Parker said.
"I'm very lucky to have RC (Buford, the general manager) and coach Pop [Gregg Popovich] to let me play for my country.
"They know that I love playing for my country. I take a lot of pride playing for France.
"I'm just happy that I have the Spurs organisation to let me do that."
Along with the good times at San Antonio, Parker has also experienced disappointment, such as this year's loss in the title series with Miami.
"That's basketball, that's life," he said stoically.
"I was lucky enough to win [the NBA title] three times already.
"It's obviously going to hurt until I die. I'll be 95 years old and dying, and I'll be like: oh, Game 6'," he laughed.
"It happens. You have to use that as motivation and come back stronger the next year.
"That's all you do."