CLEVELAND — The shortest guy on the court grabbed the rebound under his own basket, scanned the floor once, and took off.
By the time all but one of the Cavaliers figured out Tony Parker had absolutely no intention of slowing down, only LeBron James remained between him and the rim at the other end. A shoulder feint left, followed by a lightning-quick cut back to the right, and the big man might as well have been a statue.
Parker went past James, then up, up, up, close enough to see his reflection in the backboard, and kissed the ball off the glass. What looked to all the world like just another moment of improvisation was almost a lifetime in the planning.
“I’ll wake up tomorrow,” Parker said.
Thursday night was just giving way to Friday morning, so maybe Parker was leery that the MVP trophy he was just handed was going to turn into a pumpkin.
That, or else somebody would wake him and explain the Spurs hadn’t just swept Cleveland 83-82 and won their fourth championship — and Parker’s third — or worse still, that his wedding to “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria next month had been called off.
Yet when Parker was asked which was more nerve-racking — playing in the NBA Finals or the impending nuptials, he replied, “That’s a good question. I’m not nervous,” Parker said. “I’m not nervous.”
Nervous would have been an apt description, though, when Parker was selected by San Antonio in the 2001 draft after one of their assistant coaches pounded him in a pre-draft workout.
“Here was this skinny 19-year-old kid from France who had been eating croissants his whole life. I could tell by the middle of the workout,” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford recalled, “it was a disaster.”
Parker was born in Belgium and grew up playing ball in France, where his father, former Loyola University of Chicago player Tony Parker Sr. had gone to chase his own dreams of playing pro ball. His son, meanwhile, flourished in the French junior system and began hatching plans of his own. Without telling his parents, Parker would sneak down into the family’s living room at 3 a.m. to watch Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA Finals.
“I watched all of them,” Parker said recently. “You learn a lot watching that.”
The day after, he’d head over to the playground.
“When you’re small you’re always trying to repeat the moves, the post-ups and fadeaways,” he said. “I was a point guard so I can’t do fadeaways and post-ups. But I was still trying.”
The Spurs never doubted Parker’s desire or skills, only his toughness and the pre-draft workout the club had arranged was only the first taste. Soon after he showed up in San Antonio, coach Gregg Popovich began demanding that Parker learn to do everything better than he had the day before.