Big Three (San Antonio Spurs)

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The Big Three refers to Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginóbili, three longtime National Basketball Association (NBA) basketball players and San Antonio Spurs teammates. The Big Three played together for the Spurs from 2002 through 2016; the Spurs won four NBA championships (in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014, respectively) during that period. The Big Three is one of the most decorated and successful trios in NBA history, having won 575 regular season games and 126 postseason games together.

Duncan and Ginóbili retired after the 2015–16 season and the 2017–18 season, respectively. Parker, after playing one season with the Charlotte Hornets, retired after the 2018–19 season.

Pre-"Big Three"[edit]

Tim Duncan[edit]

Before being selected number one overall by the San Antonio Spurs, Tim Duncan played college basketball for four years at Wake Forest. He was a two-time Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Men's Basketball Player of the Year, three-time NABC Defensive Player of the Year, and MVP of the 1996 ACC Tournament. Duncan also won numerous national player of the year awards for his senior season at Wake Forest and was a two-time consensus first-team All-American. In 1996, Duncan led the ACC in scoring, rebounding, field goal percentage and blocked shots, becoming the first player in ACC history to do so. Wake Forest had a 97–31 record during his four years there. Duncan left Wake Forest as the all-time NCAA rebounding leader at the time. Duncan is one of only ten players to leave college with more than 2,000 career points and 1,500 career rebounds. He was also the first player in NCAA history to reach 1,500 points, 1,000 rebounds, 400 blocked shots and 200 assists.[1][2]

Tim Duncan was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the first overall pick in the 1997 NBA draft, joining David Robinson to form a frontcourt known as the "Twin Towers". The "Twin Towers" won two NBA Titles during their six seasons together—in 1999 and 2003—with Duncan winning NBA Finals MVP both times. Duncan also was named NBA MVP during his final two seasons with David Robinson and was named to the All-NBA First Team in each of his six seasons. The "Twin Towers" were named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated in 2003.[3]

Duncan retired on July 11, 2016, as a 5-time champion, and as the second player ever to win championships in 3 different decades.

Tony Parker[edit]

Tony Parker played two years with Paris Basket Racing prior to being selected 28th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2001 NBA draft. Parker began his rookie season playing as the backup point guard to Antonio Daniels, eventually become the starting point guard for the San Antonio Spurs that season and played in 77 regular-season games, averaging 9.2 points, 4.3 assists, and 2.6 rebounds in 29.4 minutes per game in his rookie season. Parker led the Spurs in assists and steals during his rookie season and was named to the All-Rookie First team that season.[4][5]

Parker retired on June 10, 2019.

Manu Ginóbili[edit]

Manu Ginóbili played seven seasons internationally before joining the San Antonio Spurs. He started his professional career with the Andino Sports Club of the Argentine basketball league before being traded to his hometown team, Estudiantes de Bahía Blanca where he played for two seasons.[6] Ginóbili then played his next four seasons in Italy. The first two seasons were with Basket Viola Reggio Calabria, where he, along with Brent Scott, Brian Oliver, and Sydney Johnson helped the team to promotion from the Italian 2nd Division to the Italian 1st Division.[6] Manu Ginóbili was drafted 57th overall by the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 NBA draft, but played three more seasons in Italy before joining the Spurs. He played his final two seasons in Italy for Kinder Bologna, where they were able to make it to the 2001 Italian Championship, the 2001 and 2002 Italian Cups; and the 2001 Euroleague, where he was named the EuroLeague Final Four MVP. He also won the Italian League MVP Award in 2000–01 and 2001–02 and was selected to three Italian League All-Star Games during his career in Italy.[6]

Ginóbili announced his retirement on August 27, 2018.

"Big Three"[edit]

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker present President Barack Obama with a Spurs team jersey during an event to welcome the 2014 NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 12, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

2002-2003 season[edit]

With the signing of Manu Ginobili for the 2002–03 season, the "Big Three" was born. During their first season together the big three averaged a combined 47 points with Tim Duncan leading the way averaging 23.3 points,[7] along with Tony Parker's 15.5 points[8] and Manu Ginobili's 7.7 points.[9] As the big three continued, so did their contributions to the team. Ginobili had the biggest jump in points of the big three as he averaged more than five points more than he had the previous season. Before the season, David Robinson announced he was planning to retire at the end of the season, signifying a transition from the "Twin Towers", a nickname given to the duo of Duncan and Robinson. The new "Big Three", along with some help from David Robinson, assisted the Spurs to an NBA-best 60–22 record and home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. In their first series, the Spurs defeated the Phoenix Suns in six games, setting up a second-round match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers. Having lost their last two postseason games to the Lakers, the Spurs and The Big Three were looking to avenge their previous losses against The Los Angeles Lakers. In Game 6, Duncan posted 37 points and 16 rebounds, as The Spurs won with a 110-82 victory and winning the series. Following the game, Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said: "I thought in Game 5 and Game 6, he [Duncan] was astounding in his focus. He pulled everyone along these last two games."[10] Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili, the other two members of the "Big Three", were also playing throughout the series. After moving past the Lakers, the Spurs defeated the Dallas Mavericks in a six-game series in the Western Conference Finals to advance to the 2003 NBA Finals. The finals featured several performances from Duncan, who averaged 28 points and 16 rebounds and was named Finals MVP.[11] In Game 6, Duncan recorded a triple-double, as the Spurs were able to close out the series and secure the "Big Three's" first NBA title. Following the NBA Finals victory, Duncan said: "We were all confident that something would happen, that we would turn the game to our favor, and it did." Duncan also expressed sadness over the impending retirement of his friend and teammate David Robinson.[12] However, his remaining teammates, Ginobili and Parker, appeared poised to fill the void left by Robinson. Both made contributions in the series, as Parker averaged 16.3 points for the series while Ginobili added 9.7. Following their championship, The San Antonio Spurs faced a team overhaul; veterans David Robinson, Steve Kerr, and Danny Ferry retired, while Stephen Jackson and Speedy Claxton left for free agency. However, the Spurs were able to address these absences in free agency by signing Rasho Nesterovic, Hedo Türkoğlu and Robert Horry.

2003-2004 season[edit]

Despite changes to the team, The "Big Three" and the Spurs made it to a 57–25 record, finishing one game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for the Midwest Division title and the best record in the Western Conference. Their strong regular season play secured them a trip to the NBA Playoffs and a first-round match-up with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Spurs promptly swept the Grizzlies and advanced to a fourth consecutive conference semifinal match-up with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Spurs and the Lakers split the first four games of the series with the home team winning every game. In Game 5, Duncan continued to play in the series, making a jump shot with 0.4 seconds remaining to give the Spurs a 73–72 lead. However, with a fraction of a second left on the clock, Derek Fisher hit a buzzer-beater to give the Lakers a 74–73 win.[13] After The Spurs defeat in Game 5, The Spurs lost Game 6 to the Lakers 88–76, and were eliminated from the playoffs.[14]

2004-2005 season[edit]

The following season, the "Big Three" played in this series and contributed with points as the Spurs were able to make it to a Southwest Division title with a 59–23 record, securing the second seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs began the playoffs by defeating the Denver Nuggets in five games. The "Big Three" contributed in this series. In the conference semifinal series against the Seattle SuperSonics, the Spurs split the first four games of the series. In Game 5, Ginóbili returned to the starting lineup and posted a playoff career-high 39 points. His effort was enough to help the Spurs to a 103–90 victory over the SuperSonics, putting them one game away from the Western Conference Finals.[15] In Game 6, Duncan delivered in yet another pivotal moment, making a shot with 0.5 seconds to break the tie and lead the Spurs to a 98–96 victory. The Spurs then advanced to a matchup with the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.[16] In this series, the "Big Three" continued to play with each other, as Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker averaged 27.4 points, 22.2 points, and 20.4 points, respectively. Bolstered by excellent performances from their three stars, the Spurs jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the series. In Games 3 and 4, the "Big Three" scored combined totals of 80 and 69 points. After losing Game 4 111–106, the "Big Three" delivered another performance;in Game 5, they scored a combined 68 points to help defeat the Suns and advance to the 2005 NBA Finals[17] The Spurs had a strong start to the 2005 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons as Duncan and Ginóbili combined for 50 points in Game 1—26 from Ginóbili, 24 from Duncan—to win Game 1 84–69 and take a 1–0 series lead. Ginóbili was the star once again in Game 2 with 27 points to lead the Spurs to a 97–76 victory and a 2–0 series lead in the NBA Finals. The Pistons fought back with victories in Games 3 and 4, but Duncan bounced back in Game 5 with 26 points and 19 rebounds to help lead the Spurs to a 96–95 overtime win over the Pistons and take a 3–2 lead heading back to San Antonio. Duncan and Ginóbili were strong once again in Game 6 as they both scored 21 points, but the Pistons were able to pull away late to tie the series and force a Game 7. Duncan and Ginóbili had a strong performance in Game 7 as the two combined for 48 points—25 from Duncan, 23 from Ginóbili—to take an 81–74 win in Game 7 to win the second NBA Championship of the "Big Three" era. The voting for the NBA Finals MVP award was very close between Duncan and Ginóbili, but Duncan ultimately won his third NBA Finals MVP award.

2005-2006 season[edit]

During the 2005–06 NBA season, the "Big Three" was a part of the Spurs team that was able to make it to a franchise-best record of 63–19 and the best record in the Western Conference. Duncan averaged 18.6,[7] Parker averaged 18.9 points and the third member of the "Big Three" Ginobili averaged 15.1 points. The Spurs began the playoffs with a six-game series win over the Sacramento Kings in the first round. They then faced the Dallas Mavericks in a tight battle with for the Southwest Division title in the conference semifinals. Duncan started out the series strong with 31 points in Game 1, 28 points in Game 2, and 35 points in Game 3, but despite that, the Spurs were one game behind the Mavericks at 2–1. Duncan and Parker combined for 64 points in Game 4 with 33 points from Parker and 31 from Duncan, but the Spurs still lost the game 123–118 in overtime and were on the brink of elimination.[18] The "Big Three" were a strong force in Game 5 as they combined for 81 points, 36 from Duncan, 27 from Parker, and 18 from Ginóbili. Their 98–97 win in Game 5 to pull within one game to a 3–2 series deficit.[19] Duncan and Ginóbili came out strong in Game 6 as they combined for 54 points—Ginóbili had 30, Duncan had 24,—to tie the series at three games apiece and force a seventh game.[20] Duncan had a 41-point performance in Game 7, but Duncan only made one of seven field goal attempts in overtime as the Spurs were eliminated with a 119–111 overtime loss to the Mavericks.[21]

2006-2007 season[edit]

After falling down the rankings to start to the 2006–07 season, the Spurs then had an NBA-best 25–6 record in the last 31 games and finished out the season with a 58–24 record which was good enough to get the number three seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs easily defeated the Denver Nuggets 4–1 in the first round and thanks to the number one-seeded Mavericks upset loss to the number eight-seeded Golden State Warriors in the first round, it set up a series between the teams with the two best records in the Western Conference as the Spurs faced the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals. Tim Duncan got the series started with his 33-point performance in Game 1 to win it and take a 1–0 series lead over the Suns. The Suns took Game 2 to even the series at 1–1 but Duncan put on another 33-point performance in Game 3 to take a 2–1 series lead. The Suns won Game 4 to even the series at 2–2, but then Ginóbili lead a strong fourth-quarter comeback with 15 points to take Game 5 88–85 and a 3–2 series lead.[22] The "Big Three" combined for 87 points in Game 6—33 from Ginóbili, 30 from Parker, and 24 from Duncan—to take a 114–106 win over the Suns to advance to the conference finals.[23] The "Big Three" began the Western Conference Final series against the Utah Jazz as they combined for 71 points—27 from Duncan, 23 from Ginóbili, and 21 from Parker—to win Game 1 108–100 and take a 1–0 series lead.[24] Duncan had a dominant performance in Game 2 with 26 points and 14 rebounds which gave the Spurs a 105–96 win and a 2–0 series lead. The Utah Jazz won Game 3 and in Game 4, Ginóbili had a 22-point performance with 11 of his 15 fourth-quarter points coming from the free throw line to help the Spurs win Game 4 91–79 and take a 3–1 series lead. Aided by 21 points each from Duncan and Parker, the San Antonio Spurs dominated Game 5 with a 109–84 win to close out the series against the Jazz and advance to the 2007 NBA Finals. The Spurs swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals to win their 4th overall championship and 3rd championship in the "Big Three" era, but this time Tony Parker took home the NBA Finals MVP award as he averaged 24.5 points throughout the series.[25]

2007-2008 season[edit]

During the 2007–08 NBA season, the "Big Three" led the San Antonio Spurs to a 56–26 record which resulted in them getting the number three seed and a first-round matchup with the Phoenix Suns. In Game 1, Duncan scored 40 points and made the game-tying three-pointer in overtime to force double-overtime and Ginóbili had the game-winning drive-to-the-basket with 1.5 seconds left in the second overtime period to win Game 1 117–115 in double overtime.[26] Parker led the Spurs through their next two games scoring 32 points in Game 2 and 41 points in Game 3 to put the Spurs ahead 3–0 in the series. The Suns emerged victorious in Game 4, but Parker came back in Game 5 with a 31-point performance to win the series 4–1. The Spurs then faced the New Orleans Hornets in the second round of the Playoffs. After losing the first two games in New Orleans, Parker's 31-point performance in Game 3 and Duncan's 22-point performance in Game 4 helped the Spurs even the series at 2–2. The Hornets dominated Game 5 and took a 3–2 series lead, but Ginóbili had 25 points in Game 6, and 26 points in Game 7 to lead the Spurs past the Hornets to reach the Conference Finals. The Spurs faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. After losing the first two games in L.A., Ginóbili came back in Game 3 with a 30-point performance to lead the Spurs to a 103–84 win in Game 3 to cut the series deficit to 2–1. However, the Lakers won the next two games and eliminated the Spurs from the playoffs.

2008-2009 season[edit]

Ginóbili missed more than half of the 2008–09 NBA season due to injury, and the Spurs finished 54–28 and ended up as the number three seed in the Western Conference. The toll from Ginóbili's injury hit them in the playoffs as, despite a 38-point performance in Game 2 and a 43-point performance in Game 4 from Parker, the Spurs lost to the Mavericks in a five-game series in the first round, and failed to make it past the first round for the first time since 2000.

2009-2010 season[edit]

The "Big Three" managed to lead the Spurs to another 50-win season in 2010, but they ended up as the number seven seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs upset number two-seeded Dallas Mavericks, thanks in part to 25-point performances by Duncan in Games 2 and 3 and a 26-point performance by Ginóbili in Game 6 to close out the series. The Spurs season ended in the conference semifinals with a loss to the Phoenix Suns.

2010-2011 season[edit]

During the 2010–11 NBA season, the Spurs had a 61–21 record and earned the number one seed in the Western Conference. Ginóbili, who was clearly the best Spurs player in these seasons being named 8th in the MVP awards,[27] was injured in the final game of the regular season. He played through his injury in the playoffs. His injury combined with a playoff performance by Duncan that was not up to par with previous years resulted in the Spurs losing to the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the playoffs.

2011-2012 season[edit]

During the lockout-shortened 2011–12 season, the "Big Three" and the Spurs finished with a 50–16 record and again earned the number one seed in the Western Conference. Duncan averaged 15.4 points, Tony Parker averaged 18.3 and Ginobili averaged 12.9 points. The "Big Three" and the Spurs completed two, four-game sweeps against the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers to reach the Western Conference Finals. The "Big Three" began strongly in the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder as Ginobili scored 26 points in Game 1 and Tony Parker scored 34 in Game 2 to for a 2–0 lead. The Spurs lost the next two games. Then although Ginóbili scored 34 points in Game 5 and Parker scored 29 in Game 6, the Spurs were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder with a six-game series loss.

2012-2013 season[edit]

The following season, the Spurs finished with a 58–24 record and earned the number two seed in the NBA Playoffs as a result. The "Big Three" lead the Spurs to a four-game sweep ver the Los Angeles Lakers and ended up facing the Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry in the second round. In Game 1, after missing many critical shots, Ginóbili shot the game-winning three-pointer to give the Spurs a 129–127 win in double overtime and put them in front 1–0. The Warriors took Game 2 to even the series at 1–1 and then, Tony Parker had a 32-point performance in Game 3 to take a 2–1 series lead. The Spurs defeated the Warriors in six games to advance to the Conference Finals. The Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the conference finals to advance to the 2013 NBA Finals where they faced the Miami Heat. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Tony Parker hit a layup with 5.2 seconds left to put the Spurs ahead 92–88. The Spurs won the game and took a 1–0 series lead.[28] However, the Spurs ended up losing the seven-game series to the Miami Heat.

2013-2014 season[edit]

During the 2013–14 NBA season, the "Big Three" and the Spurs finished with an NBA-best 62–20 record, thus earning home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. The Dallas Mavericks forced a Game 7 on them in the first round, but Parker put up a 32-point performance to help defeat them 119–96 to advance to the second round. Parker kept up the strong performances going into the second round with a 33-point performance in Game 1 to give the Spurs a 116–92 win over the Portland Trail Blazers and take a 1–0 series lead. The Spurs beat the Trail Blazers in a five-game series. The Spurs then beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a six-game series to reach the 2014 NBA Finals, giving the Spurs consecutive trips to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. They faced the Miami Heat for the second consecutive year. The "Big Three" shot a combined 62 points in Game 1—21 from Duncan, 19 from Parker, and 16 from Ginóbili—along with 10 rebounds from Duncan and 11 assists from Ginóbili and eight from Parker. This helped the Spurs win Game 1 110–95 in a 90 °F (32 °C) AT&T Center to take a 1–0 series lead.[29] The Spurs ended up winning the finals in five games, winning their final game 104-87,[30] to win their fifth championship in franchise history, and the fourth and final championship during the "Big Three" era.

2014-2015 season[edit]

During the 2014–15 NBA season, the Spurs finished with a 55–27 record and earned the number six seed in the Western Conference. In their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, Tim Duncan had 20-plus performances in Games 2, 5, and 7 but the Spurs lost the series to the Clippers in seven games.

2015-2016 season[edit]

During the 2015–16 NBA season, which ended up being their last season together, the "Big Three" and the Spurs finished with a franchise-best 67–15 record and earned the number two seed in the Western Conference. The Spurs swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round but lost a six-game series to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals.

On July 11, 2016, Tim Duncan announced that he was retiring from the NBA after a 19-year career, thus ending the "Big Three" era.[31]

Post-"Big Three"[edit]

The Spurs reached the 2016-17 Western Conference Finals, losing to Golden State 4-0 after leading scorer Kawhi Leonard was injured in Game One. The Warriors went on to win the 2016-17 NBA championship.[32] During the 2018 playoffs, the Spurs were defeated by the Warriors, 4-1, in the first round of the playoffs. The remaining members of the "Big Three", Ginobili and Parker, played in the series; Ginobili averaged 9.0 points per game and Parker averaging 6.0 points per game.[33] After the 2017-18 NBA season, Parker signed with the Charlotte Hornets and Ginobili retired.[34] Parker played one season with the Hornets, then retired after the 2018-19 NBA season.[35]


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