Tony Parker calls Tim Duncan 'the most coachable great player of all time' in thank you letter to Spurs

Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/sas" data-ylk="slk:Spurs">Spurs</a> guard <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/3527/" data-ylk="slk:Tony Parker">Tony Parker</a> and coach Gregg Popovich shared 17 seasons in San Antonio. (AP)
Spurs guard Tony Parker and coach Gregg Popovich shared 17 seasons in San Antonio. (AP)

Tony Parker wrote a heartfelt “thank you” letter to the San Antonio Spurs for The Players’ Tribune.

After a 17-year career with the Spurs that included four NBA championships and the 2007 Finals MVP award, Parker signed a two-year, $10 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets earlier this summer. But before moving on to his next chapter, Parker wanted to chronicle what San Antonio meant to him.

“Thank you to the Spurs organization, from top to bottom, for the most amazing opportunity of my life — and for 17 years of the greatest job on earth,” the 36-year-old wrote. “Thank you to Spurs fans, everywhere, for always showing up, always being loud, and always, always having my back. And thank you to the city of San Antonio, for being the only thing that I could ever possibly call it now: home.”

Parker called Tim Duncan ‘the greatest I ever played with’

A late first-round pick by the Spurs in 2001, Parker joined a franchise two years removed from winning its first-ever title, led by Tim Duncan and David Robinson. While Parker lauded Robinson and other veterans for enhancing his development rather than letting their championship pursuit stand in the way of it, the six-time All-Star credited Duncan for creating the “Spurs Culture” that led to five titles.

“Because here’s the thing with Tim Duncan: Was he the greatest player of all time?” he wrote. “I don’t know — he’s the greatest I ever played with, I’ll say that, and I’ll let the experts take it from there. But here’s one thing I’ll tell you, absolutely: Timmy was the most coachable great player of all time.

“That was always our secret weapon, to me: You see this all-world player, this All-NBA First Team, MVP of the Finals, about to be MVP of the league guy, and here he is in practice, willing to be coached like he’s fighting for a spot on the team. It was unreal. And if you think that’s too passive for a star player to be? Well, then you’re not thinking it through on Tim’s level. Because Tim knew the truth: which was that to let himself be coached in this way, you know … that’s true charisma, and that’s true swagger. It’s like he was challenging everyone else in our gym: The best player in the entire league is willing to put his ego aside for the good of this team — are you?”

Gregg Popovich ‘a close second’ to Duncan for culture-setting

Pairing “the most coachable great player of all time” with one of the game’s most brilliant coaching minds is never a bad idea, and few understood that better than Parker. He called Spurs coach Gregg Popovich “a close second” to Duncan in terms of driving “the program that we built” into a dynasty.

Parker said it was Popovich who puppeteered the ebbs and flows of their careers. Whether or not it benefited one player more than another at any point, it was always for the good of the team, and Parker saw both sides of that — from the team chasing Jason Kidd in free agency just after he helped lead them to the 2003 title to the Spurs riding his hot streak to a 2007 during his Finals MVP run.

“Here’s the thing, though, with all those experiences, both the ‘good’ ones and the ‘bad’ ones: They all made me a better player — and they all made me a better person. And that’s just Pop, man,” added Parker. “That’s what makes him so special. It’s no B.S. when he’s giving you these words of encouragement … and it’s no B.S. when he’s giving you these words of criticism. When he’s starting you, when he’s benching you, when he’s handing you the keys to the offense, or even when he’s shopping the keys around in free agency to someone else … man, you’re still getting the same Pop, operating on the same principle, every time. And that principle is: anything that happens on his watch, it happens for one reason and one reason only. The good of the Spurs.”

Dejounte Murray and the student becoming the teacher

Parker spent so much time with Popovich that he made a Popovich-ian decision this past season, informing the coach that it was time to play young Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray over him — “for the good of Dejounte’s development, and for the good of the team.” Popovich agreed, and Parker informed Murray. It put a blow on his time with San Antonio, allowing him to move on to Charlotte.

“Was it bittersweet?” asked Parker. “You know what, I’m not trying to seem like a robot here or anything, but it really wasn’t. It’s a discipline thing, I think. That’s just kind of the way that I was raised, and how I’ve grown up as a player — to always stay moving forward. Of course don’t get me wrong: every now and then, you know, Manu and Timmy and I, we’ll get together for dinner … and when this happens, for sure, then it’s time for a little bit of nostalgia. You can’t help it — and we have this great time, sharing all these great memories back and forth. But when it’s in-season? And I’m in work mode? When you’re in work mode in this league, I think, you have to be pretty disciplined: about letting the present stay the present, and the past stay the past.

“And so that’s how I tried to keep that moment. I wanted Dejounte to know that he’d earned it — but also that what the decision came down to, in the end, was the exact same thing that it would always come down to during his time in San Antonio: the good of the Spurs.”

Parker’s one Kawhi Leonard reference

Parker heaped praise on former teammates Duncan, Robinson and Manu Ginobili, the Hall of Famers whose careers crossed paths with his in San Antonio. However, there was only one direct reference to Kawhi Leonard, the 2014 Finals MVP who was supposed to carry that mantle to the next generation of Spurs, but instead forced his way out with a well-publicized trade demand that reportedly had its roots (at least in part) in a misunderstanding with Parker.

Parker said he, Ginobili and Duncan were each at their happiest when the others were cooking in the playoffs. “And then even if it’s none of us, you know?” he wrote. “If it’s none of the original Big Three, and now all of a sudden it’s the young gun, Kawhi, dominating in the ’14 Finals — man, Timmy and Manu and I, you’ve never seen such smiles as the ones we had on when we are lifting that trophy.”

There is another part of Parker’s letter that could be interpreted as an indirect reference to Leonard’s departure from the organization. It was in reference to how Robinson and the veterans took him under their wing in 2001, but when juxtaposed with how this summer transpired, it captures your attention.

“Everyone had their expectation of winning championships,” Parker wrote of Robinson and other Spurs veterans. “But then they also had this other responsibility, that they valued just as much, of, like … leaving the team in better shape than when they found it. And that’s Spurs Culture, to me, you know? Fulfilling your expectations, while also making room for this larger responsibility to the whole.”

The Spurs may never be better than they were when Parker found them, but had Leonard remained healthy and stayed with the organization, there was at least a chance they could have been. Whatever the case may be, the Spurs are better for having had Parker, and for that San Antonio is thankful, too.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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