With the NBA finals set to tip off tomorrow between the Spurs and the Heat , SI senior writer Chris Ballard tells the story of the San Antonio’s talented trio—Tim Duncan, Manu Ginóbili and Tony Parker—a group of mismatched teammates making one last final push for its fourth title after 13 seasons together. The three stars appear on a regional cover of this week’s SI.
Although there are more famous trios in NBA history, Ballard says, “if this is about winning and teamwork, then it’s hard to argue against Tony Parker, Manu Ginóbili and Tim Duncan. They have 10 rings among them and, with this year’s trip to the NBA Finals, more postseason wins (98) than all but one trio in NBA history: Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper.” (PAGE 54)
Each player took a different path to stardom. After being drafted No. 1 overall in 1997, Duncan averaged a double double his rookie year as a starter and helped the Spurs win a title in his second season. Ever since, he’s been one of the most consistent stars in the NBA. “There’s nothing sexy about Duncan. Unless, that is, you find studied excellence to be sexy,” says Ballard. (PAGE 58)
Parker, a late 2001 first-round draft pick as a 19-year-old from France, drove coaches and fans crazy early in his career with turnovers, wild drives and poor outside shooting. Yet coach Gregg Popovich’s patience paid off when the Spurs won their second title, in 2003, thanks to Parker’s improved play, along with the continued brilliance of Duncan, and the energy from Ginóbili, then a 25-year-old rookie from Argentina. Ten years later, Popovich says of the acrobatic Ginóbili, “I had to stop coaching him because if you put him too much in a cage, you lose his benefit.” (PAGE 56)
The trio, which also led the Spurs to titles in 2005 and 2007, now returns to the finals tomorrow for the first time in six years with different roles, but the same goal.
“To this day I can’t believe it all fit together like it did,” Popovich says of his trio. “If you say, How did you guys find Ginóbili, you must be really good scouts, my response is, ‘Are you s—-ing me?’ He was a competitor, and we liked his style. But it was the 57th pick. What the hell, let’s take a shot. Same with Tony. He was the 28th pick. There’s not a lot of pressure there. We didn’t know all this would happen in the beginning. It really is a credit to the three of them.” (PAGE 60)
Tony Parker has lived the good life during his 12 years in San Antonio: His Spurs have won three NBA titles, and he is one of the NBA’s most recognizable celebrities, San Antonio’s only rapping French nightclub owner and coach Gregg Popovich’s frequent dinner companion. Parker is finally the Spurs’ go-to guy after years of being treated like an intern, and Michael Rosenberg writes that he has never felt more at home (page 51).