Game 6 and the legacy of Tony Parker
After cutting his teeth in a loss to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks last year, tonight, I fear, could very well be the occasion that vaults Kevin Durant into the iconic stage of his career.
Having taken a 3-2 series lead with an opportunity to close the deal at home, it would appear the NBA’s team of the future is ready to begin its legacy in the here and now.
Which is a frightening thought considering that at the age of 23, Durant is blessed with as much time as he is talent.
But if tonight’s narrative is to be about the ascension of Durant, it must come at the expense of another season-long story that has been put on pause and derailed since Game 2 of these Western Conference Finals. While Durant has at least another decade to determine his legacy, Tony Parker only has tonight — and possibly a Game 7 — to write his.
It seems ages ago that Parker was on the sidelines in the first round of the playoffs, pleading with head coach Gregg Popovich for a little more time in a blowout victory over the Utah Jazz. Back then, of course, Parker was famously only 29 years old.
A few weeks later, now at the ripe old age of 30, Parker has a more compelling case for carrying as many minutes as his legs will allow. He’s not getting any younger, and his opportunities to truly lead a championship-quality team aren’t getting any better.
After cutting his teeth behind Tim Duncan, and then Manu Ginobili, this was to be the season that vaulted Parker from capable third wheel into something, if not iconic, at least more.
Parker has always deserved his place amongst the game’s stars, even if only on its lower tiers. From time to time, however, his talents and success played at something better. Is Tony Parker an elite player? Fair or not, how history views that question is very dependent on what happens tonight.
This is, after all, the first NBA team that Parker has been a part of that can truly be said to be his. While Duncan and Ginobili remain championship cornerstones, they have aged beyond the point of owning a championship team.
It’s ironic that the fate of the San Antonio Spurs championship hopes rest in the hands of the same player who once declared them to be over, perhaps even somewhat telling.
But in positioning himself as the best player and leader of this Spurs team, and positioning that team as one of the best in the NBA, Parker propped that contention window open just enough to intrigue the basketball world with how far a Tony Parker-led team could go.
For a moment in time those possibilities seemed endless. Parker took ownership of the team, and in return displayed a mastery of his position that rivaled any in the NBA this season. When the first M-V-P chants broke this season from the AT&T Center, the moment was surprising only in how natural it felt.
Going back to Game 5, those chants tried to surface, but were undoubtedly forced. The Thunder, behind a blitzkrieg of Thabo Sefolosha and Serge Ibaka, with a wall of athletic defenders behind them, appear to have solved Tony Parker. And while there is little shame in being flummoxed by such a seemingly impossible task, there is little glory either.
There should be little doubt in the toughness or competitive resolve of Tony Parker. They were forged in the hell that is Gregg Popovich’s wrath, and any player who not only survives, but thrives under such circumstances deserves at least the benefit of the doubt on that.
The question lies in his abilities. Not on whether he’s good or not, because he is. Amazingly so. But on whether he is the sort of elite player one can pin their championship hopes on.
How far can a Tony Parker-led team go?
Tonight will be telling. Durant and Parker both have an opportunity to begin the iconic eras of their career. But only Durant has time on his side.