The final buzzer sounded in their respective quarter-final encounters and after a few handshakes and hugs, three legends of the international game stepped off the court and headed into the tunnel for the final time.
France’s Tony Parker, Argentina’s Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni have all poured their heart and soul into their respective country’s basketball chapters and written their own history, but following the elimination of both sides at the Rio Olympics, all three have decided that it is time to walk away and usher in a new era and a fresh chapter for the two nations.
“This is my last game in the national team and no turning back, I gave everything, it has been a pleasure,” the 36-year-old Nocioni said following his side’s 105-78 quarter-final loss to the USA.
“I never dreamed not even of playing in the team and I played in four Olympic Games. It’s unbelievable. I still can’t believe it’s true. It’s the last game we played together. At some point it had to end, we enjoyed this last tournament being together.”
Nocioni, a 2015 EuroLeague Final Four winner and MVP with Real Madrid boasts an impressive display of international accolades upon his retirement, highlighted, of course by a gold medal that he won at the Athens Olympics in 2004, Nocioni has an Olympic bronze medal from 2008 as well as a World Cup runners-up memento from the infamous 2002 tournament, which was remembered for the USA spectacularly under-performing.
As for Ginobili – who is now 39 – he would be 42 by the time the next major tournament rolled around as the FIBA World Cup is set to take place in China in 2019. He came off the court and on to the bench in the latter stages of the loss to the Americans, making sure he hugged and thanked every player wearing the navy blue jersey. He looked around to the hoards of passionate Argentinian supporters and held back tears as best he could. The San Antonio Spurs star, who recently inked a one-year extension with the NBA outfit is likely to see out his club career this season but for now, the Argentina vest that he has proudly rocked for 17 years will deservedly be hung to rest.
PARKER DID NOT REGRET ONE SECOND
In a modern basketball era where it seems that few players don’t show enough pride in playing for the national team, show up when they want for team practices and even use it as their own personal training camp to keep match fit ahead of the new season, there was one player, amongst a few others that used the national stage as a chance to re-connect with his homeland and play for his country with honour.
France’s Tony Parker exemplified all that and more. He took international basketball and representing his country incredibly seriously and everytime he took to the floor in a France uniform, his passion and enthusiasm went up a few levels.
The sheer joy that was written all over Parker’s face was obvious when he won the Eurobasket title in 2013, claiming the tournament MVP award in the process. He raced to his family inside the Stozice Arena in Ljubljana, Slovenia as soon as the final buzzer sounded following a convincing win over Lithuania and it was then that you knew Parker had his most memorable moment in the international arena.
But he soaked up every second that he could.
“The last 16 years has been great and I don’t regret one second,” he said.
But, all good things must unfortunately come to an end – and following a 92-67 loss to a rejuvenated Spain side in the last eight, Parker, 34, kept a promise that he made to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and team president R.C. Buford to retire following these Olympics.
“I’ve been very blessed – that’s all I can say,” Parker said to ESPN after their loss to Spain.
“Those 15 years, all the championships, all the records, everything that we accomplished, it’s just stuff when I retire I can cherish and show my kids everything that we won with the Spurs.”
Like the recent retirement of Panathinaikos legend Dimitris Diamantidis, it is a real heartbreaker to see three legends and possible future FIBA Hall-of-Famers end their international careers with convincing defeats instead of leaving on a high. That’s sport, you could say but instead of focusing on their finales in Rio, remember their best moments, the fondest memories and the knowledge that we are saying goodbye to three players that simply loved wearing the national team jersey.