SAN ANTONIO — He laughs about it now.
When Tony Parker was a 19-year old rookie with the San Antonio Spurs in 2001, he didn’t have much of a relationship with teammate Tim Duncan.
“He didn’t talk to me for a whole year,” Parker said. “It was kind of weird.
“Coming from France, if your superstar player doesn’t talk to you it’s kind of tough, because you’re supposed to talk to everybody. But as we grew together in the league and he trusted me more, I can really say it’s [now] a special relationship.”
Not until Parker and Duncan won their first NBA title together in 2003 did the little Frenchman comfortably feel he could say something to Duncan that the Spurs’ all-time leading scorer would value. Before then, their communication gap was the distance from France to the United States.
“I think you have to earn his respect,” Parker said of Duncan. “And that’s fair, when you’re 19. When I first came from France, maybe he thought I didn’t know anything about the game or the guys we’re playing against.”
Parker proved his worth to Duncan. Not only did the talented point guard become a six-time All-Star, but he was named Most Valuable Player of the 2007 Finals when the Spurs swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to capture San Antonio’s fourth NBA title.
Along the way, Parker had numerous heartfelt conversations with Duncan. But the first one was special.
“I was very happy, I remember that, that he finally talked to me,” Parker said. “I was like, maybe I can stay on this team, because if Timmy doesn’t talk to you, it’s tough to stay with the Spurs. He’s the franchise.”
Teammates on NBA champions in 2003, ’05 and ’07 (Duncan also won a title in 1999 before Parker’s arrival), they came within a whisker of another crown last season before losing in seven games to the Miami Heat.
This team has been perceived as “too old” for years, yet they have won at least 50 games for 15 straight seasons and have been among the West’s top three seeds every year but one since the turn of the century.
But even some Spurs supporters are wondering if this is their last best chance to add to that championship legacy. The top-seeded Spurs’ first step is getting past the Dallas Mavericks.
In Sunday’s series opener, San Antonio trailed by 10 points with under eight minutes to play. But they outscored the Mavs 19-4 down the stretch and won 90-85.
Game 2 is at 7 Wednesday in San Antonio before the series moves to Dallas on Saturday.
After 166 playoff games together — the equivalent of two seasons — Parker and Duncan certainly speak the same language on the court. Quite a turnaround from their silent start.
“[Duncan] knows I’m very passionate about the game and a student of the game,” Parker said. “He knows I’m a dictionary of the NBA. So every time he asks a question on the past or who we play or what game, he asks me because he knows I’m going to have the answer.
“I feel close to him on the court and off the court. We’ve both been through a lot of stuff through our careers, so I think it got us closer.”
For the third time in his illustrious career, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich was named NBA Coach of the Year.
Having led the Spurs to an NBA-best 62-20 record this season, Popovich joins Don Nelson and Pat Riley as the only three-time winners of this award. Popovich, who also won the award in 2003 and ’12, is the only coach to win three times with the same team.
Popovich collected 59 first-place votes and 380 points from a panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who cover the NBA. Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek finished second with 37 first-place votes and 339 points while Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau was third with 12 first-place votes and 159 votes.
Dwain Price, 817-390-7760 Twitter: @dwainprice
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