Tony Parker knows a thing or two about what it’s like to play in the NBA Finals. One of the greatest European players in the history of the league, Parker and the San Antonio Spurs made it to basketball’s biggest stage five times. On four of those occasions, he was able to play a major role in the Larry O’Brien trophy making its way to San Antonio.
This year, the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors will go head-to-head in the Finals, and Parker has a unique tie to the men in charge of teams. Both Steve Kerr and Ime Udoka spent time with the Spurs as one of his teammates, while Udoka joined Gregg Popovich’s staff as an assistant following the conclusion of his playing career. He’s been happy to sit back and watch as they’ve managed to navigate their respective conferences and face off in the Finals, which begin on Thursday night in San Francisco. And if Parker’s prediction of what’s going to happen comes to fruition, the series will end there, too, as the teams will need seven games to determine who is going to earn the distinction of being champions.
Prior to things tipping off a little later this evening, Dime sat down with Parker to discuss his partnership with Mountain Dew, the Finals, and much more.
What do you have going on with Mountain Dew?
We decided to become partners for the for the Finals, with Mountain Dew Legend. They’ve been working with the league a lot, making sure our fans have a great experience. They love our game, they love our fans, and that’s something that I can relate to. And when they asked about the Finals and what I thought, you know, I think it’s gonna go to Game 7, I think we have two great teams. And so they have something special: If it goes to Game 7, you will have a free Mountain Dew Legend at every Buffalo Wild Wings. And so I was like, that’s a cool concept, so I’m going to push for that, for it to go to a Game 7, and that’s why we decided to partner together.
I counted it up and I believe you played in six Game 7s. Can you describe the feeling of a Game 7 — is the vibe different, is your approach different, are things in the locker room and on the floor different?
Game 7 is the best is the best game. It’s the best, it feels like a Super Bowl. It’s the best feeling because everything is just one game, win or go home, and there’s no excuses. By that time, you know the team perfectly, you’ve play them six times. And so Game 7, there’s no excuses, you gave everything you got. I love the atmosphere of a Game 7.
I want to ask about the teams in the Finals. What are your general thoughts, what do you like, what do you like about the matchup, whatever goes through your mind.
I love everything. They have two great defenses, great firepower on the offensive end, a lot of guys can create and score. I think it’s going to be a very, very interesting Finals, because the story of Golden State, obviously, is unbelievable — six Finals in eight years, and the way that whatever happened in 2019, to come back after two seasons with no playoffs, I just think the story is great. And then obviously, with Ime, I played with Ime, he was my assistant coach when we won in 2014, I’m just so happy for him. His first year, it’s unbelievable what he accomplished with the Celtics, and it’s always nice to see the Celtics in the Finals. If you know NBA history, it’s pretty cool. So, it’s gonna be a great Finals. I love everything about it, I love all the stories, and I think it’s gonna be a tough Finals.
Are there any matchups between a player on Golden State and a player on Boston that you’re particularly looking forward to?
No, I think that the teams … obvious the story with Klay is unbelievable, Steph too, Jayson Tatum becoming a superstar. But I think it’s more like the teams, who’s going to make the difference. And it’s going to come down to who’s going to make the big shots and make the big plays in the fourth quarter, I think it’s gonna be a tough series.
I want to ask about winning an NBA Finals MVP, just because everyone’s talking about it with Steph right now and you have one from 2007. What does it feel like to win that, specifically to get recognized for being at your best with a title on the line?
It’s an unbelievable, unbelievable feeling. It’s one of the best awards you can get in our league, especially at the time, I was the first European to to achieve that. It was kind of weird, because out franchise player was Tim Duncan, and he won the first two times we were in the Finals. And so for me, it was like, that trophy goes to Timmy, it’s just normal, me and Manu were like the soldiers. [laughs]
But in those Finals, I had a great matchup and my teammates, they were feeding me the ball and I just kept going, just kept going, shot the ball very well in that series, I think 58 percent, something like that. So, they just kept passing me the ball, and I was just on fire that series.
You’re unique guy to talk to because you played with both Steve Kerr and like you mentioned, Ime Udoka. When you were teaming up with them, was it obvious to you back then that they were two guys who would go on to be successful coaches?
Steve for sure. Ime, I was kind of surprised, but Steve for sure. He has a great basketball mind and when I played with him with the Spurs, he was already giving great advice and always teaching the game, all his experience that he got from his Bulls days. So for me, it was great to have a teammate like that. And then Ime, he was obviously, too, a great teammate, but it was kind of surprising. But then, he stayed seven years with us, learned from the best, and just had an unbelievable first season.
You mentioned the best in Pop, and while acknowledging that you’re not in the locker room or practice or those sorts of things, are there ways you see Pop’s influence on them in their approach, how their teams play, how they communicate, those sorts of things?
Yeah, you see some similarities, that’s for sure. The way they approach the game and the consistency that the demand. But then, they have their own thing, too, because when you’re a coach, you have to adapt to the players you have — Steph Curry is one of a kind. So you’re not going to coach Steph the same way you’re going to coach Timmy, and Boston, same thing, the way they’re built. So, you see similarities, but at the same time, they have their own identity.
I would argue the Warriors are the closest thing we’ve seen to you guys in terms of there’s a core of players, there’s a coach, and it’s led to a sustained championship level of success. It’s so rare to see that — is there any sort of secret to making that work for as long as they have, and as long as you guys did?
It’s very hard, it’s very hard, because first of all, you need to ownership to believe in the core, and to go through the ups and downs, because we won three championships in five years and then nothing for seven years. In 2011, we had the best record in the league and we lose in the first round. They still didn’t break up the team. In 2012, we go to conference finals, we lose, 2013, we go to the Finals, we lose. Ownership just believed in us.
So to have that unbelievable run that we had for 20 years starts with ownership, starts with dedication with the coach and dedication with the core, with a big three. It takes a lot for that to happen. And you can see similarities with Golden State — Steve Kerr has been there forever. When Klay was hurt, they didn’t make the playoffs for two years. They still stuck with with their core, and now they’re rewarded this year.
And so, that’s why I think I’m going with Golden State in seven, because first of all, I think the story is unbelievable, and I think experience is gonna play a big factor in these Finals.