SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Boris Diaw was rightly concerned about the well-being of a scrawny 19-year-old kid moving to a new country and attempting to compete against the game’s best in the NBA. One odd Christmas dinner that turned into an impromptu film session helped Diaw realize his friend and French teammate, Tony Parker, was going to be just fine.
The seeds of that evening came to full fruition as the San Antonio Spurs retired Parker’s No. 9 jersey on Monday night in a stirring ceremony.
The sting of a 113-109 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies was quickly forgotten as a sell-out crowd celebrated the career of San Antonio’s mercurial point guard.
Accompanied by his wife, Axelle, and sons Josh and Liam, Parker celebrated his career with former teammates and coaches along with the Spurs fans.
Parker became the 10th player in franchise to have his number retired, joining fellow Big Three members Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili in having their jerseys lifted to the rafters of the AT&T Center.
“It was an honor to play for you guys, to play together,” Parker said. “You have no idea how much impact you two had in my life. You inspire me every day.”
Parker, Duncan and Ginobili teamed to win four of the franchise’s five NBA championships and are the winningest trio in league history with 541 wins.
“He grew so quickly,” Duncan said. “I had no idea that this kid would be my point guard, the point guard that I loved to play with for the rest of my career.”
That success and friendship came after a dubious start.
Parker had a self-described “horrible” first workout with the Spurs prior to the 2001 NBA draft that drew the ire of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. A second workout convince Popovich and the Spurs to take a chance on the French point guard and he rewarded them by earning NBA Finals MVP in 2007, six All-Star selections and becoming the franchise’s leader in assists (6,829).
“Tony I want to apologize for all the physical and mental abuse I gave you over the years,” Popovich said to the roar of laughter. “Thank you. I’ve been wanting to say that for a long time.”
Not that Parker needed an apology. The relationship between Parker and Popovich grew from a coach and player to paternal.
“The impact that you had in my life,” Parker said. “I have an unbelievable dad, but you were an unbelievable second dad to me. The way you taught me stuff, the way you helped me understand the game and make me better.”
Diaw got a glimpse of the impact Popovich would have on Parker in December 2017.
Parker invited Diaw to San Antonio to celebrate the holidays and they both went to Popovich’s home for Christmas dinner. Diaw began searching the home after both disappeared following a great meal and dessert.
“I see Pop viewing film with Tony about the game the night before,” Diaw said. “I’m like, ‘It’s Christmas.’ And Pop was yelling at Tony. ‘You missed the shot and you’re turning over the ball and you do that.’ Wow. So, on the same night you could have the family setting, all the love and the care, and at the same time caring about making Tony a better player. That’s when I knew Tony was good in hands.”
And so were the Spurs.
“I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world to see you from age 19 to this day,” Popovich said. “So, it’s from a young kid who I just gave the ball to and said, ‘Ok, you’re gonna run the show,’ and pretty soon we’re going to be there when you enter the Hall of Fame.”