by Darren Smythe
Few players have been as quick as Tony Parker, or won as high a percentage of games, or been able to score inside so well considering his height, or been able to dominate the NBA after learning his basketball skills overseas. Parker's excellence has once again played a huge role in putting the Spurs within a game of another NBA title. Collectors haven't always been quick to go after Tony Parker's basketball cards. He didn't have the hype that college, and at the time high school, players had when drafted. Not many fans had heard of Centre Federal and Paris Racing, the teams Parker played for in France. He just sort of plopped down and started his NBA career 11 seasons ago.
The Spurs always know more about international scouting than most of the other NBA teams, and they added Parker with the 28th overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. That was the year Kwame Brown went with the top pick. Pau Gasol was the first international player picked in that draft, and point guards Jamaal Tinsley and Raul Lopez were taken before Parker was.
With plenty of busts going in that draft, the rookies don't have the appeal to collectors that others do. Parker's rookie cards often have the highest price among his draft class, due to not only his and his team's success but also because he has played with the same team his entire career. Gasol Andrei Kirilenko, Tyson Chandler and Shane Battier have rookie cards in the same sets that Parker does but none are with the teams that they first played for. Spurs fans will always want Parker rookie cards, but Lakers fans may not want a card of Gasol from his original NBA team. Of course, the overriding factor is long-term success.
Tony Parker rookie cards remain very affordable for the most part. Not only was Parker overlooked during his rookie season by many collectors. The Fleer Ultra set didn't have his rookie card but this was addressed by inserting Parker's Ultra rookie card in packs of Fleer Focus.
How long has he been around? Long enough to where autograph cards in packs were still a bit of a rarity. He has very few signed rookie cards so it's the single, non-signed cards of tougher and more popular brands that draw rookie card collectors. Most are still pretty reasonable.
Parker's 2001-02 Topps Chrome #155 Refractor has sold recently on eBay for $40 and $60. His 2001-02 Topps Chrome Black Refractor, numbered to 50, sold for $265.
The Spurs won their first NBA championship with a point guard with limited shooting range, Avery Johnson, and Parker started his career as someone who could be left open on the outside. What Parker didn't have early in his career that the Spurs needed at point guard was the veteran play that someone like Johnson possessed. Card collectors sometimes didn't see Parker on the floor at the end of games as the Spurs would use a type of "closer" to replace him, a veteran point guard to bring calm in the halfcourt game like Antonio Daniels.
Parker played in his first NBA All-Star game in 2006, he had four assists and five turnovers but playing in the game signified his arrival in the upper echelon of NBA guards. Another turning point in his career was averaging over 20 points per game in the 2005-06 playoffs.
Parker would not only improve many parts of his game but the Spurs would change their roster in a way that allowed Parker to do what he does best, penetrate into the paint and pass for the assist or score. When Parker arrived in San Antonio they had Tim Duncan and "The Admiral" David Robinson and they built the team around them. The Spurs dominated inside and the offense was pass the ball into the post, and if defenses collapsed, then send it back out for the open jumper. The Spurs would use outside shooters at power forward, like Robert Horry and Matt Bonner, after Robinson retired and that created more space and driving lanes for Parker to exploit.
Something that raised Parker’s profile was his marriage to Eva Longoria, star of the television show Desperate Housewives. Parker went from being an NBA player to a Hollywood celebrity, and when the basketball season was over he was still headline news as he attended the awards shows and other events.
Parker has some worldwide appeal, which could help raise his collector profile, especially with another title. Maybe he will finish his career playing against Team USA for the gold medal at an Olympic Games or FIBA World Championship.
Another event that could have collectors looking for Parker's cards is if he can win an MVP award. Before an injury caused him to miss games in the middle of the 2012-13 season, Parker was being talked about as a contender for the award, behind LeBron James but possibly ahead of Kevin Durant. Parker's most expensive card from recent sales is one that he shares with James, an autographed card from Exquisite that went for Best Offer Accepted, possibly around $1,000.
When Parker signs, it's usually just his last name and jersey number.
Parker seems like a lock to wind up in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Two recently inducted guards who had similar careers to Parker are Joe Dumars and Dennis Johnson. Like Parker, they have multiple championships and a Finals MVP award. Parker has passed Dumars for career assists and will pass Johnson next season. Parker’s scoring average for his career is also higher than Joe D and DJ.
Currently there are two types of Parker cards that collectors are spending a lot on, cards that feature him along with Duncan and/or Ginobili with autographs or memorabilia, and the 2012-13 Panini Preferred Silhouettes Prime Patch cards. Limited to 25 cards, the Silhouettes have a distinctive piece of memorabilia, like a multi-colored piece of the team name from the jersey, with Parker's autograph on the card as well. One recently sold on eBay for $383.88. An Upper Deck Premier Triple Patch, numbered to 5, sold for $209.70 with patches of memorabilia from Parker, Duncan and Ginobili.
He won NBA titles in 2003, 2005 and 2007, and was the NBA Finals MVP in 2007. He has appeared in five NBA All-Star games. His teams have never missed the playoffs. Whether Parker's basketball cards will eventually reflect everything he brings to the court could turn this week as the Spurs try to lock down another title.