Anthony Parker, a three-time Final Four champ

Jan 20, 2014 by Vladimir Stankovic - Print
Anthony Parker - MaccabiThe number of American players who played in Europe is, at this point, almost unimaginably huge, but we can use the fingers on one hand to count the ones who won three continental crowns. If my memory and my colleague Javi Gancedo's memories serve, there are only three – without counting Clifford Luyk and Wayne Brebender, who are naturalized as Spanish citizens. They are Bob Morse with Varese in 1973, 1975 and 1976; Mike Batiste with Panathinaikos in 2007, 2009; and 2011 and Anthony Parker with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2001, 2004 and 2005. In some way, we can also consider Mexican Manuel Raga, also a triple champ with Varese, as American by having been born on the same continent, but I am in fact talking about players from the United States. It's curious that the three – or four – of them won those titles with the same team, a kind of loyalty that is hard to find nowadays.

Basketball in the genes

Today we will look at the story of Anthony Parker (born June 19, 1975 in Naperville, Illinois), en excellent shooting guard who is in the memory of almost all basketball lovers because he put an end to his career just a year and a half ago. However, his status as 'retired' qualifies him for this series dedicated to the greatest players in the history of the European cups. With a father who was a basketball player at the University of Iowa, a mother who was a basketball cheerleader, a brother, Marcus, who also was a player and a sister, Candace, who became a star in the WNBA, there's no doubt that Anthony had basketball in his veins.

As all future stars, Parker already stood out in his high school years in his hometown, and even more at Bradley University, where he averaged 11.0 points and 4 rebounds in his freshman year. However, a couple of years later he was already worth 18.8 points, 6.5 boards and 3.5 assists. His best weapon was his three-point shot ( 42%). You could see he was a great shooter from the beginning. In 1996 he was a member of the Under-22 USA team together with Tim Duncan and Paul Pierce. In the title game against Canada for the Americas championship, he scored 19 points and helped the USA advance to the 1997 world junior championships.

In the 1997 NBA draft, Parker was selected by the New Jersey Nets with 21st pick of the first round and immediately traded to the Philadelphia 76ers, however his NBA dream didn't come to reality because of injuries and other circumstances. After almost wasting three years between the NBA (76ers and Orlando Magic) and the CBA (Quad City Thunder and Rocky Revue) he took the best decision of his sports life: He moved to Europe. Well, Maccabi Tel Aviv was not Europe in a geographical sense, but since it took part in European competitions, the Old Continent was fortunate enough to see the arrival of one of the finest American players ever to play in Europe.

At the beginning it was not easy. The political situation in Israel was not optimal for an American with a different lifestyle, but he managed to adapt little by little and he produced a very good season with a league title plus the cup and the SuproLeague, the FIBA competition in the 'year of two Euroleagues'. In the Israeli League, Parker averaged 14 points (48% three-point shooting), 4.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists. In the SuproLeague he had similar numbers; 14 points and 5.3 rebounds. The FIBA Final Four was played in Paris with Maccabi, Panathinaikos, CSKA Moscow and Efes Pilsen. In the semis, Maccabi defeated CSKA 86-80 with 17 points by Nate Huffman and 14 by Parker. In the final, Maccabi beat Panathinaikos 81-67 marking the start of a rivalry that would be part of the start of the 21st century. Huffman and Arriel McDonald scored 21 apiece, while Parker had 13. It was his first title.

Tel Aviv - Rome - Tel Aviv

Parker took a break for the start of the 2002-03 season to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. Midway through that season he decided to return to action and accepted an offer from Virtus Roma. Until the end of the season he played 27 games there with his usual numbers: 14.5 points, but with 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. To everyone's surprise, at the end of that season he returned to Maccabi, where he would become a key player in the coming years, a true star. I remember a talk with Dusan Ivkovic, coach of CSKA between 2002 and 2005 with three Final Four participations and three losses in the semifinals, in which he admitted to me that it was a mistake of his not signing Parker, who had been offered to the Russian club. He was a player that could turn any contender into a champion.

After the miraculous win of Maccabi over Zalgiris Kaunas – led by a brilliant Arvydas Sabonis, who was back to his boyhood club at 40 years old, and who admitted in his recently published memoirs that it was one of the toughest losses of his career – in overtime forced by Derrick Sharp's three, Maccabi entered the Final Four of 2004 in Tel Aviv as the big favorite. It lived up to the expectations. In the semis, Maccabi won 93-85 against CSKA with 27 points by Parker, who had great shooting accuracy: 7 of 12 twos, 2 of 3 threes and 7 of 8 free throws plus 6 rebounds and 2 assists. In the title game, the record-setting 118-74 rout of Skipper Bologna, Parker scored 21 points in 29 minutes. There was no doubt about the MVP.

Of course, Parker also made the All-Euroleague team after averaging 16.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists that season. His career highs in the Euroleague are a performance index rating of 47 against Asvel Villeurbanne on November 18, 2004, and 33 points in the same game plus 10 assists against Zalgiris. It was a pleasure to see him in action: elegance, technique, shooting, rebounding, passing, blocks, fighting spirit... He was an all-around player. Someone who, even if not winning by himself, could change the course of a game, set the rhythm and find the path to victory for his team. And master Pini Gershon, his coach those years, knew how to use those qualities very well.

The 2004-05 season was a copy of the previous one. A double crown in Israel and another European crown. In the Moscow Final Four, Maccabi defeated Panathinaikos in semis 91-82 with 20 points by Sharp, 14 by Maceo Baston and 13 each by Saras Jasikevicius and Parker. In the final, on May 8, Maccabi outplayed a powerful Tau Ceramica by 90-78. Tau was a team coached by Dusko Ivanovic with players like Jose Manuel Calderon, Arvydas Macijauskas, Travis Hansen, Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni and Tiago Splitter. However, there was another great team on the other side: Jasikevicius (22 points in the final), Baston (18), Nikola Vujcic (13), Nestoras Kommatos (13), Parker (12 plus 6 rebounds and 3 assists), Tal Burstein (8), Sharp... With two titles in two years, Maccabi became the first team since 1990 capable of repeating since Jugoplastika Split (1989 and 1990). Parker was named Euroleague MVP.

Maccabi just fell short on repeating Jugoplastika's three-peat. In the 2005-06 season, the team also reached the title game in the Prague Final Four, but then, after 35 years, CSKA Moscow managed to win the title again. CSKA beat Maccabi 73-69 and dedicated the title to its legendary head coach Aleksandar Gomelskiy, who had died a few months earlier. However, Parker claimed the second of his Euroleague MVP awards for another spectacular campaign.

Brilliant return to the NBA

For the 2006-07 season, Parker, at 31 years old, returned to the NBA but in some ways, we could say that he had signed for the Toronto Raptors on October 16, 2005. Maccabi, the European champion, was on a North American tour. It's true that the Raptors were in the middle of the preseason, but nobody in Toronto expected such a tough game and such a tough loss. With 11 seconds to go, and with 103-103 on the scoreboard, the 17,281 fans at the Raptors' arena saw the best of Anthony Parker. The ball was in his hands on the right side of the court. It was clear that he would go for the one-on-one. Morris Peterson's defense looked good and Parker was almost stepping on the out of bounds line, but then he fabricated his favorite play: it looks like he will try to dribble and penetrate, but after taking the first step he stops, steps back and pulls up for a shot with a great arc. It was an impeccable shot, as if taken from a manual, a video that youngsters should study to see perfection in an individual play. Parker finished the game with 24 points, causing fan admiration. "What a good player!" you could hear everywhere, while Raptors coach Sam Mitchell considered the loss "unacceptable". For his part, Parker said. "It was really fun, it's fun to be part of history."

It was the first loss by an NBA team against a team from a different continent after 27 years, after a win by Maccabi itself against the Washington Bullets in September of 1978 (97-98). The big Jewish colony in Toronto celebrated the magnificent win for Maccabi and was even happier when they learned that Parker would play with the Raptors in 2006. He was back where he belonged, the NBA. At Maccabi he wore number 8 and in Toronto he wore 18, the Hebrew number symbolizing life. All of a sudden he was in the starting five, earning his teammates' respect and also that of the media and opponents. He averaged 12.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists. He was the team leader in three-pointers - fourth in the league - and free throws. Call it a coincidence or not, that season Toronto was division champion for the first time and also made its playoffs debut.

In three seasons in Toronto, Parker played 243 regular season games out of the possible 246! His three-point percentages were, respectively, 44.1, 43.8 and 39.0. After three very good seasons, he would finally go back home, to the United States. He signed a three-year deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He lowered his scoring numbers (7.3, 8.3 and 7.2) but he shot his threes just as good: 43.4%, 39.9% and 36.2% in his last active season, 2011-12. In two stints he totaled nine seasons in the NBA with 494 games averaging 9.1 points and 40.4% on threes. In a few playoff games, (11 with Toronto in two seasons and 11 more with Cleveland in one) he shot for 43.4% on threes and averaged 10.9 points. His highest scoring game was 27 points against the Chicago Bulls in 2007 while against the Indiana Pacers he once pulled 11 rebounds in 2008. He announced the end of his playing career on June 27, 2012, and shortly thereafter signed with Orlando as a scout.

Anthony Parker was a great player who shined in Europe, Canada and – eventually – at home.