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Hit the hardwood with ‘Tony Parker: The Final Shot’

January 11, 2021
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Sports documentaries are always a mixed bag, but that bag is particularly mixed if the doc is about a single individual. It’s a fine line; a person isn’t going to sign onto a film that’s going to be a hatchet job, but venturing too far into the realm of hagiography undermines the credibility of the filmmakers and the credulity of the viewer.

“Tony Parker: The Final Shot,” currently streaming on Netflix, manages to find its way into the middle ground, albeit considerably closer to the hagiographic side of the equation. Directed by French filmmaker Florent Bodin, it’s a journey through the career of Tony Parker, the retired NBA point guard who is generally considered to be the greatest player in the history of French basketball.

It’s a well-researched deep dive into Parker’s lengthy career, from his early days as a rising star in French basketball to his early growing pains as a youngster in the NBA through his evolution into one of the league’s elder statesmen and best players as a championship-level leader on the San Antonio Spurs. The film also follows him in the aftermath of the devastating quad injury that almost ended his career and his final year in the league as a part of the Charlotte Hornets.

There’s plenty of Parker, of course, but we also get insight from a number of Parker’s former coaches, teammates and contemporaries. Those Spurs teams featured a handful of the best NBA players from the last quarter-century – legends like Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Manu Ginobili all turn up multiple times, sharing their thoughts on Parker. We also get a ton from Greg Popovich, the delightfully crusty longtime coach of the Spurs.

And perhaps most notably, there’s a significant amount of conversation with the late Kobe Bryant, who we hear from numerous times over the course of the documentary. There’s a bittersweetness there, even as we see the now-mellow Mamba reminiscing about facing off against Parker and lamenting the fact that the point guard cost him at least a couple of titles.

But we also hear from other significant figures from Parker’s life and career. We meet both of his parents, for instance, his Dutch mother Pamela and his American father Tony Sr. – the two met while Tony Sr. was playing pro basketball overseas. We meet early coaches and journalists and even spend some time with Parker’s dear friend (and fellow French sports superstar) Thierry Henry.

All of it in service to telling the tale of a remarkable career. Parker won four NBA titles with the Spurs, scoring nearly 20,000 points in his 18 years in the league. He also spent time with the French national team, participating in numerous EuroBasket tournaments, leading the team to a gold medal in 2013.

“Tony Parker: The Final Shot” isn’t a particularly insightful or challenging documentary. This is not a film aimed at digging into some sort of real truth about Tony Parker the person. For instance, his four-year marriage to actress Eva Longoria – something that contributed mightily to the elevation of his national profile here in the U.S. – is largely glossed over.

Instead, Bodin is interested in Parker’s basketball journey and not much else, a circumstance of which Parker undoubtedly approved. But even in that sense, there are a couple of moments where you can sense a slightly strained relationship with his former teammates – Duncan in particular occasionally appears to be restraining himself to platitudes. It almost seems as though Parker was liked as a teammate, but not necessarily off the court.

At times, “The Final Shot” feels a bit padded, as if there was a mandate to reach the 100-minute mark. It’s a movie that could probably lose 15 minutes without any real impact on the final product, but I get it – there’s some fun interview stuff that Bodin was likely loath to leave on the cutting room floor, even if it was essentially superfluous.

That’s not to say that it’s an uninteresting film. The story of 21st century pro basketball can’t be told without those Spurs teams and Tony Parker was a vital cog in the San Antonio machine. The early days of his journey are fascinating, with insight as to what it means to be the sporting hope of a nation. And seeing Bryant on screen again is welcome, if a little complicated – his interview is among the most engaging of the bunch; the affection he held for Parker as an opponent is clear and genuine.

Despite not being a Spurs fan and a relatively casual fan of the NBA in general, I dug “Tony Parker: The Final Shot.” It is celebratory rather than scandalous – if you’re looking for dirt, you’ll be disappointed. But if you’re a fan of the game, the guy or both, you’ll have a pleasant enough time.

[3 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 11 January 2021 11:52

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