Parker says goodbye to Olympics after France loses to Spain
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Before going their separate ways, Tony Parker and Paul Gasol met near mid-court and the new teammates shared a warm embrace following Spain's lopsided win.
They'll soon be together in San Antonio to chase an NBA title.
They'll never meet again in the Olympics.
Nearly written off after two losses to open the Rio Games, Spain is back in the men's basketball semifinals for the third straight time following a 92-67 rout of Parker and France in the quarterfinals on Wednesday. With Spurs-like offensive precision, the Spaniards got easy looks at the basket and dissected a French team that came to Brazil with medal hopes but leaves empty-handed.
After the loss, a nostalgic Parker, the dazzling point guard who made France relevant on international hardwood, said he would no longer play for his home country.
''I just took a lot of pride playing for the national team,'' said the 34-year-old Parker, who scored 14 in his final game. ''I just love playing in this competition. I love this atmosphere, which is very different than the NBA. Growing up, my dream was to win an NBA championship. That was my ultimate goal. But as I grew up, I fell in love with the national team.
''We won the gold medal in juniors when I was 18. So then my goal was to try to bring the first national team ever championship for France, and we did that in 2013. Overall, just great experiences. I enjoyed it all these years. These last 16 years have been great. I don't regret one second.''
Nikola Mirotic scored 23 points, Willy Hernangomez added 18 and Spain pulled away in the third quarter to reserve a spot in Friday's semis.
When Spain opened the preliminary round with losses to Croatia and Brazil, it appeared the country's standing among the world's basketball elite might be in decline. However, the two-time defending silver medalists have overcome injuries, a summer of free agency and a lack of practice time together to again advance to the global version of the Final Four.
And now the Spaniards not only have a shot at a medal to go with the ones they got in Beijing and London, but they might get another crack at the U.S., which has beaten them in the gold-medal game in the past two Olympics.
The Americans meet Argentina in another quarterfinal with the winner facing Spain.
For Parker, his second Olympics ended like his first: without a medal hanging from his neck. While he has won four titles with the Spurs and is considered one of the game's premier point guards and basketball ambassadors, Parker never attained the international success he's had in the NBA.
Still, he'll cherish the time he spent wearing France's uniform, hearing ''Le Marseillaise'' played or watching the nation's tri-colored flag raised after a victory.
''I think we put French basketball on the map,'' he said.
With Parker, France built a rivalry with Spain as the two took turns knocking each other out of tournaments.
''Let me just say that I've been honored to play against Tony Parker throughout so many years on the national team,'' Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. ''He's a great competitor and it was so tough to prepare games versus him.''
Saying goodbye to the French team wasn't Parker's only farewell this summer.
In June, his longtime Spurs teammate Tim Duncan announced his retirement, and for a while it appeared Manu Ginobili would hang it up, too. However, Ginobili recently said he's coming back for one more season with San Antonio.
Parker knows the breakup of San Antonio's ''Big 3'' is inevitable, but that doesn't make it any easier.
''I'm very blessed, that's all I can say,'' Parker said. ''Those 15 years with Timmy and all the championships and all the records and everything we accomplished, it's just stuff that when I retire I can cherish and show my kids everything that we won. I'm happy that Manu's got one more year. So it's not everybody at the same time.
''That day will come too. My day will come. It's just life. Everything comes to an end.''