By Aris Barkas/ [email protected]
Pau Gasol called it a day and after 20 years the holy trinity of European NBA stars, the Spanish giant, Tony Parker, and Dirk Nowitzki are part of the sports’ history. Parker had already his jersey retired, Gasol will have his too and a similar ceremony is also just a formality for the German basketball icon.
While there’s nostalgia and respect for Drazen Petrovic and Arvydas Sabonis, this trio surpassed them. Comparisons are never easy, but judging by the success that Gasol, Parker, and Nowitzki had both in the NBA and with their national teams, it goes without saying that they are the best European players of all times with Nowitzki edging both TP and Pau as the only European franchise player who won an NBA championship, before the Greek Freak.
However, when Dirk did it in 2011, Giannis Antetokounmpo was still an unknown in Greece, Luka Doncic was just 12 years old and Nikola Jokic was notoriously and unsuccessfully asking on Facebook if somebody wanted to play some basketball with him.
Before Dirk, Tony Parker, and Pau Gasol were winning NBA titles as key members of the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Lakers while dominating the FIBA national teams tournaments, creating the most intriguing modern basketball rivalry between France and Spain.
Gasol beat the other two by his longevity and an unmatched resume of international success. Between 2001 and 2017, Gasol won 11 medals with the Spanish national team, including a World Championship title in 2006 and three Eurobasket golds.
His last run to the top included a 40-point performance in the semifinal against host France as he led Spain to the Eurobasket 2015 title while being already 34 years old.
That kind of success dwarfs the four medals of Parker and the two of Nowitzki, even if in Dirk’s case it’s not his fault that the rest of the German national team simply didn’t have the talent to support him.
However, the three legends combined for a total of seven NBA championship titles (four by Parker, two by Gasol, and one by Nowitzki) proving along the way that Europeans can be top dogs in the NBA and never forgetting that they should be also part of their national teams and the world basketball scene.
The popularity of basketball in Europe wouldn’t be the same without this trio that managed to make their NBA success a commodity for FIBA basketball.
If Drazen Petrovic, Vlade Divac, and Arvydas Sabonis were exceptions and pioneers, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, and Pau Gasol proved beyond any doubt that basketball is a global sport and paved the way for the modern NBA era in which the champion and Finals MVP comes from Greece, the MVP is a unique passing center from Serbia and the most exciting young player is a phenomenon from Slovenia.
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