Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
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Tony Parker did not go through adolescence as a Spur. It just seemed that way. As a rookie, Parker looked young enough to pass for an 11th grader. Now he might stick around San Antonio long enough to get his first (premature) gray hair.
The Spurs recently extended Parker’s contract, and when it expires, he’ll have worn Silver and Black as long as David Robinson -- 14 seasons.
“I always said I wanted to stay in San Antonio,” Parker told reporters last week. “It’s my home.”
Home is a good word. Parker works here, lives here, shoots H-E-B commercials here. It’s hard to imagine him anywhere else. And the extension locks in the team’s core. With Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili healthy and playing well, the possibility of another title run looms.
“Hopefully, we can have a great season,” Parker said, “and win a lot of games and go far in the playoffs.”
Parker weaved a little magic Monday night. He spun and drove through the Clippers. Sank floaters. Nailed jumpers. Converted free throws. When it was over, the Spurs had a W and Parker had 19 points and nine assists.
Quick: Who is the youngest Spur ever to appear in uniform? Parker. He made his debut against the Clips at age 19 ... a ... long ... time ... ago.
He didn’t look like an NBA point guard in 2001. He looked like an AAU talent. After Parker’s first game (nine points three assists, two steals), Duncan deadpanned, “He’s what, 13-years-old?” And yet, even then, Coach Gregg Popovich thought Parker reminded him of John Stockton.
Fresh out of France, Parker was faster, more electrifying and proved he belonged in a hurry. Pop made him a starter after five games, and Parker didn’t disappoint. After he dropped 19 points on Atlanta on Nov. 10, 2001, it was hallelujah-where’s-this-guy-been? “The Tony Parker experiment is three games old,” I wrote in an Express-News column then, “and so far he hasn’t blown up the lab. Only conventional thinking. Too young to start in the NBA, it was said. Too young to star. Evidently, he is not.”
For those too young to remember, Parker the rookie upstaged Gary Payton the star in the 2002 playoffs. Torched him and Seattle for 21 points in Game 1. Averaged 17.2 points on 50 percent shooting in a series the Spurs won.
Fast-forward eight years to Monday and a circle-of-life moment. First game after signing his extension, Parker slices through the first NBA team he played, and watches another foreigner debut against the same Clippers. Tiago Splitter dunked once and grabbed two rebounds in 10 minutes.
Splitter is working his way into shape. Parker is in the best shape of his life, and that’s good for the Spurs. A three-time All-Star and a Finals MVP, Parker at his best remains among the best. “We’re excited about it,” Pop said of Parker’s extension last week.
Once a twig-like teen, Parker has added savvy, strength and muscle since his arrival, not to mention a deadly tear drop floater. He has literally grown up here. The good news for Spurs fans -- he’s probably not through growing.
With a new extension in his pocket, and one less distraction to ponder, Parker was off and running Monday night. Who knows? At 28, he may be spinning and driving to a career year.