How Spurs found, almost lost, Tony Parker
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
Before Tony Parker was the guy leading the San Antonio Spurs’ against the Miami Heat in their charge for a fifth NBA championship, he was a grainy figure on general manager R.C. Buford’s TV.
It was a different time in the NBA in 2001, when technology didn’t allow for instant-gratification scouting and there was still a needle-in-the-haystack reality when it came to finding talent overseas. But the small-market Spurs simply had to go this route, finding players where others didn’t because they couldn’t cut the big-city checks or entice the stars to come their way.
So Sam Presti, then a 24-year-old Spurs scout and now general manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, would show up at Buford’s home, after the kids had gone to bed, with a duffel bag full of VHS tapes of this young French wizard. He dreamed of finding the next great player to put beside superstar Tim Duncan.
They got their man in the 2001 draft, taking Parker 28th and handing him over to coach Gregg Popovich and his sink-or-swim ways.
“I just remember how excited R.C. was after it worked out in the draft,” Presti told USA TODAY Sports. “The draft is a different animal, so you never know how the board will ultimately work or fall. There was some uneasiness about whether or not he would be available at our pick.
“The draft is a different animal, so you never know how the board will ultimately work or fall. There was some uneasiness about whether or not he would be available at our pick, and I just recall RC being really, really excited that Tony was there.”
Twelve years later, the excitement hasn’t remained so much as it has returned. Parker, 31, averaged 20.3 points per game this season, his highest average since the 2008-09 season and second best of his career. He played in his fifth All-Star Game while nearly matching his career high in assists per game and averaged 24.5 points, 9.5 assists per game in a Western Conference finals sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies. The NBA Finals start Thursday at the American Airlines Arena in Miami … [For more on How the Spurs found, then almost lost, Tony Parker, click here.]