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Tony Parker is most underrated of Spurs Hall of Fame trio with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili

There are some moments in life that you’ll never forget. For me, one of those came on Oct. 5, 2006.

I was one of almost 6,000 people stuffed into France’s Astroballe arena to watch ASVEL Basket face the San Antonio Spurs. It was a preseason game, but it didn’t feel like one. Rarely do teams in the middle of a dynasty — the Spurs would win their fourth championship in nine seasons in 2006-07 — venture overseas.

It also served as a homecoming for Tony Parker, a one-time All-Star at the time who was born in nearby Belgium and grew up in France.

Parker didn’t treat it like a warmup game. In his limited minutes, he finished with 26 points and 10 assists. I can’t recall a single one of those points or assists, though. It was one of his misses that will forever stand out.

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Parker had a free runway to the basket after coming up with a steal at some point in the second half. Rather than lay the ball in like he usually would, he tried to put on a show. He slowed down when he realized nobody was chasing him and casually rose for a two-handed dunk.

The result? A block by the rim.

Parker grabbed his back as if that was the issue. The arena quickly filled with boos. Gregg Popovich was in midseason form, not even cracking a smile for a mistake made during an exhibition game that the Spurs went on to win 25 points.

The same player who blew a routine dunk in a preseason game went on to average 11.2 paint points per game in the 2006-07 season. That ranked 10th in the entire NBA behind a group of players that included Shaquille O’Neal, Yao Ming and LeBron James.

Standing at 6-2 and 185 pounds, Parker wasn’t gifted with the overwhelming strength of O’Neal, the towering height of Yao, or the generational athleticism of James. He was on the smaller end, even compared to other players at his position.

That’s not to say Parker wasn’t an incredible athlete. He was, just not in the traditional sense.

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What Parker lacked in size and vertical pop, he made up for with his blazing speed, tight handle and soft touch around the basket, the combination of which made his shot much harder to block than it had any business being. His best moments with the Spurs is a highlight reel filled with ankle-breaking crossovers, acrobatic layups and some of the niftiest spin moves you’ll ever see. He deserves to be mentioned in any best-finishers conversation alongside the likes of Kyrie Irving, Allen Iverson and Russell Westbrook.

Parker mastered the ultimate giant killer as well — the floater, a high-arching flick shot often used by guards to finish over bigger defenders in the paint.

“I did that because I was small and it was the only way I could get a shot off on the bigs,” Parker said.

Parker wasn’t the first to perfect the teardrop, but he once joked that he’s got “copyrights” on it. It was his Dream Shake, his one-legged fadeaway, his skyhook.

Parker made it look simple, but it was anything but. It wasn’t just that he was quick with the ball in his hands. (Parker was once recorded as reaching a top speed of 20.9 miles per hour. That blew other point guards like Ricky Rubio and Derrick Rose out of the water.) It’s that he knew how to harness his speed to play under control.

Anywhere inside the free throw line was Parker’s playground, and he could stop on a dime and get his floater off before the defense had a chance to react. It helped him dominate the paint like a 7-footer.

“He really brought a new feel and a new way of competing inside against big guys,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford said of Parker. “He was always at the top of the league in points in the paint.”

The culmination is a Hall of Fame career that might fly under the radar, especially when compared to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Parker retired in 2019 as a six-time All-Star, four-time All-NBA selection and four-time champion. He will forever hold a place in the history books as the first European to earn Finals MVP, later joined by Dirk Nowitzki, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic. He’s also one of only seven point guards to ever receive the award.

It feels wrong for a missed dunk to be a memory associated with a player who accomplished as much as Parker did, but it will forever be a weird reminder to me about what made him such a special player and an all-time great.

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