SAN ANTONIO (AP) – The fans in San Antonio didn’t care too much about a rare home loss. They only wanted to shower Tony Parker with love and appreciation.
Parker gave them plenty to cheer about, just as he did for 17 seasons with the Spurs.
Kemba Walker scored 33 points and Parker enjoyed a triumphant return to San Antonio as the Charlotte Hornets beat the Spurs 108-93 on Monday night, snapping their seven-game home winning streak.
“Draining mentally, emotionally, it was just an awesome night,” Parker said. “Just want to thank the fans. The way they reacted throughout the game was just unbelievable. Love, and I appreciate everything. It was just a great memory and a great night for me that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Parker had eight points, four assists, three rebounds and no turnovers in his first game back in San Antonio after signing with the Hornets during the offseason.
Jeremy Lamb added 19 points and Marvin Williams had 11 for Charlotte, which ended a three-game skid. The Hornets also stopped an 11-game slide in San Antonio.
LaMarcus Aldridge led the Spurs with 28 points and 10 rebounds, but they could not muster enough energy as Parker made his emotional return.
“Just to see him embraced and loved throughout the game, and he helped us as well,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “A pillar of this community, a pillar of the San Antonio Spurs organisation forever. I think it’s a pretty good ending to a fun night.”
The Spurs honoured Parker before the game with a two-minute video of his career highlights in San Antonio, including being drafted with the 28th pick in 2001 and his four National Basketball Association (NBA) championships with the team. After the video, the Spurs’ retired jerseys appeared on the video monitors and an empty spot in the rafters was shown to signify Parker’s future place among them. The crowd roared in appreciation, chanting “Tony! Tony! Tony!”
“I expected nothing less,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who considers Parker like a son. “Tony is a wonderful human being. He was a great player for us and he deserved all the love that he received, that’s for sure.”
The cheers continued when Parker entered the game for the first time with 4:50 remaining in the first quarter.
Just as he first did as a 19-year-old rookie with the Spurs, the slippery point guard juked past defenders and drove the paint probing for layups or open teammates. His driving layup put the Hornets up 82-79 with 8:15 remaining.
“That was vintage Tony,” Borrego said. “We’ve seen that before many times in this building.”
Parker exited shortly after that and did not return until fans demanded it by chanting his name again with 17.6 seconds left. Borrego, a former Spurs assistant, granted their wish and put Parker in amid loud cheers that continued until he came out.
“I thought they supported Tony, like I expected,” San Antonio point guard Derrick White said. “He did great things for the organisation. It’s well deserved. Definitely good to see him. Wish him the best.”
Parker had a long embrace with Popovich following the game as fans cheered.
The Spurs’ ideology has stuck with Parker, who jokingly got angry with his teammates after the win.
“They wanted it bad,” Parker said. “Before the game they were like, ‘We’re going to do this for you Tony, you deserve it.’ They played so hard that after the game I’m like, ‘Why don’t we play like that every road game? Come on guys.’”
The jubilation in the stands came despite a rough night for the hometown team.
The Spurs opened the game on an 11-3 run but the Hornets followed with a 25-7 spurt to take their first double-digit lead at 28-18.
San Antonio struggled offensively, with two of its top five scorers, Rudy Gay and Marco Belinelli, both out with injuries.
White finished with 18 points, and DeMar DeRozan and Davis Bertans each had 14 for the Spurs.
Parker wasn’t the only one who enjoyed a triumphant return. Borrego defeated his friend and mentor, Popovich.
“It was special in many ways,” Borrego said. “Just to see Popovich first of all. Just to hear his voice, give him a hug, that was most important. This is a basketball game. We do our best, we compete, but there’s a lot of love here. Just great to see him. He’s been a great encouragement for me. I know he’s happy for us.”