One pundit wrote before the start of the EuroBasket tournament that France is a rather mediocre team who reached the finals only thanks to Tony Parker. Well, everyone misses the mark every so often. France's 2013 team is one of the most talented and athletic teams ever to play in the European Championship. France could boast not only an opening five with an NBA past or present, but rather two such teams. Take Parker, Mickaël Gelabale, Nicolas Batum and Boris Diaw, and you have the foundation for an exceptionally good team. Add Alexis Ajinca, Nando De Colo, Antoine Diot, Florent Pietrus and Johan Petro; the list goes on and on. So much strength, talent and power in one national team.
Granted, the French team had a slow start to the tournament; on the other hand the coaches might have been aware that they're expecting three long weeks and decided to keep the players' energy for the final stages. The team hardly broke into a sweat in the opening stages, but when push came to shove the French battled hard to beat the hosts Slovenia in the quarterfinals, saw off Spain in the semis with a famous win, and then trampled all over Lithuania in the final.
When the tournament began I believed Diaw was talented, but not reliable; then he scored 15 points in the final. Diot seemed at times as the worse possible replacement for Parker, but then decided to assume responsibility and was wonderful. When Batum found the going tough and was benched, he never grumbled and lost his mojo like Israeli stars, but kept cheering on the team. The French national basketball team — as opposed to the French national soccer team — refused to find itself entangled in ego battles that ultimately overshadowed its talent, but presented a united front, with classes but lacking ego, exactly as a national team should.
There are two different molds of superstars: The first must constantly prove to themselves and the world how great they are, subsequently hogging attention and creating a negative atmosphere; the second are well aware of their stardom and therefore aren't influenced by the circumstances — they know we know their worth. Parker, obviously, belongs to the second group.
Due to his relatively small size, his facial expressions and French underachievement, Parker was never seriously considered in all the discussions as to 'the greatest European player ever.' Now that France has finally captured the European crown, one must reconsider: Its not only the points he scores, his impossibly quick first step, the unstoppable cross-over or the ever-accurate killer pass; it’s the whole deal.
I had the pleasure of watching Parker closely in two EuroBaskets. Well, he does belong to a different class. Undoubtedly, Parker does have an ego, but he knows how to use it. His conduct is always exemplary, constantly smiling, cooperating, signing autographs and posing with fans — but always aware that he isn't larger than the team. Despite being a superstar, despite getting divorced from actress Eva Longoria, despite playing more than 100 games last season (!), Parker always shows up for national team tournaments, without making a fuss.
Parker is a hard worker, cheers his teammates when he's on the bench, leads the team but doesn't impose his game. In the first stages of the tournament he took special care not to stand out. Indeed, he ran the game, scored and passed, but his attitude was "guys, I'm here. If there's any problem, turn to me." Ask Yogev Ohayon what happened against France in the opening minutes of the second half, when Parker decided that enough was enough and won the game single-handedly.
His class was never more evident than in the final. All eyes were on Parker, and one could sense his excitement (and his urge to win the MVP). Still, he tried not to stand out, not to hog the focus, and allowed his teammates to share the spotlight. In all the photos of the team celebrating with the trophy, he is somewhat on the wings. In order to be a great basketball star, one must first be a sportsman. In that aspect, Parker is definitely one of a kind.
With all due respect and enthusiasm, one must feel for Lithuania, the losers in the final. Parisians were overjoyed by the victory, but if Lithuania had won, Vilnius would have gone bananas. True, this is a young national team which overachieved by actually reaching the final, but it’s a shame the team seemed so rattled by the occasion.
There aren't that many “basketball countries,” where the orange colored ball is most popular type. The French have soccer and rugby and handball and athletics and swimming and cycling. In Lithuania they have basketball, basketball and more basketball. Such a country deserved a better performance from its national team in the final.