EUROPEANS IN THE NBA
|It was a dream year for Tony Parker, clinching EuroBasket gold, the EuroBasket MVP award and his fourth NBA title|
In the space of just 263 days, Tony Parker has experienced the two most joyous occasions in his professional life and raised the bar even higher for future generations of European players.
The French star, who had steered France to their first ever EuroBasket gold medal on 22 September 2013 and was named FIBA Europe Player of the Year in February, collected his fourth NBA title on Sunday night when his San Antonio Spurs completed a 4-1 defeat of the Miami Heat in the Play-off Finals.
In the process, Parker became the European player with the most silverware on the other side of the Atlantic.
Croatia and former Yugoslavia legend Toni Kukoc won three NBA titles with the legendary Chicago Bulls and was up until Sunday tied with Parker, who had previously helped the Spurs lift the trophy in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
That 2007 NBA title had come complete with a Finals MVP award for the French point guard, who became at the time the first European player to win this personal accolade.
German legend Dirk Nowitzki repeated the feat in 2011 when he led another Texan franchise, the Dallas Mavericks, to the coveted title against, interestingly, the Miami Heat.
Parker himself however made clear that the 2014 crown is the dearest to him of them all, including the 2007 double coronation, mainly because of the heart-breaking manner in which they had lost last year's series to Miami.
"That's what makes this journey unbelievable," Parker said on NBA's GameTime late on Sunday.
"This is the sweetest one; it's my favourite championship out of my four.
"Because it's been seven years (since the previous one) and the way we lost last year, it was just cruel.
"Everybody knows that sport sometimes is very cruel and sometimes is beautiful.
"I am very blessed to play with them (his Spurs team-mates), take nothing for granted and appreciate every moment."
His words on Sunday echoed what he had said in a press conference room packed with journalists from around the world in the late night of 22 September in Ljubljana, after collecting his EuroBasket gold medal and MVP award.
"The journey was unbelievable and I would not change anything. Going through pains, ups and downs, bronze medal, silver medal and finally getting the gold, I feel that I am very lucky," Parker had said back then.
And he went on to add something that, perhaps prophetically, implied that spending the summer with the national team would not be in detriment of his campaign with the Spurs but would on the contrary galvanise his determination.
"Coach Pop [Gregg Popovich] was one of the first to call me after the quarter-finals and the semi-finals, wishing me luck because he knew how bad I wanted this, giving me advice," Parker said.
"I've got to love coach Pop for letting me play because he knows I will be a little be tired at training camp but now I got the gold medal, so he is not gonna say anything."
|Boris Diaw played an essential role in the Spurs' title run, being rewarded with his first NBA championship ring|
A man that tasted both of these triumphs in the past 263 days alongside Parker and a player to whom both France and San Antonio owe an enormous amount of their success, is Boris Diaw.
The captain of Les Bleus, who joined the Spurs in 2012, has won his first NBA title and fulfilled a dream he had together with his childhood friend ever since the two of them met at the famed French sports school INSEP, when they were just 13 years old.
On Sunday, Diaw joined fellow French internationals Rodrigue Beaubois, Ian Mahinmi and Ronny Turiaf, who have also earned the NBA champion's ring on one occasion.
"It is such a joy to see the two flag-bearers of French basketball together in the best NBA team, winning this prestigious title," commented the French Federation (FFBB) technical director Patrick Beesley in a statement.
"Their careers and their commitment is an example that should be highlighted.
"We are so happy for them. Congratulations!"
Perhaps not by accident, the third European on this Spurs side that constitutes the most international team ever to win an NBA title, also chose to forego a long holiday last summer and play instead at the EuroBasket.
Marco Belinelli helped Italy reach the quarter-finals of the big tournament last September and less than nine months later, became the first Italian player in history to win an NBA crown.
"Dear Marco, it has been an enormously emotional moment, unthinkable for an Italian player up until a few years ago," Italian Federation (FIP) Giovanni Petrucci wrote in an open letter on Monday.
"It is with joy that I confirm you have become the reason for a great pride for Italian basketball.
"You deserved the title of NBA champion because of your personal trajectory, made of humility, perseverance, consistency but also because of a talent that you cultivated by working hard in the gym every single day.
"Just like at the last EuroBasket, just like every time you have pulled on the Italian jersey, you have represented Italy in the best possible way.
"I am convinced that you will continue to do so."