Long after midnight, the basketball court still covered with black and silver confetti, a pack of loud, slightly inebriated Frenchmen in No. 9 jerseys began jumping up and down and chanting in sing-song voices -- the way people chant for their favorite European soccer team.
"Nous sommes les cham-pi-on! Nous sommes les cham-pi-on!"
"We are the champion! We are the champion!"
"They are Tony Parker's people," explained a French journalist. "His brother. Boys he played with when he was 13. His friends."
Would you call that Tony's crew? "Yes, you could say that," the man said.
Along the city's Riverwalk on Wednesday afternoon, a hard-featured Mexican woman of maybe 70 wore a tight-fitting, hot-pink T-shirt. Read the front, in gaudy sequined letters: "Ginobili's Girl."
In simpler NBA times, foreign players such as Toni Kukoc or Dino Radja would bring their games overseas, take on subservient roles to Michael Jordan and be thankful they were not playing in Milan or Istanbul for a living.
Now they bring their posses. They make aging beauties coo and coax young ones to go out with them. Among the pack of loud men chanting was Eva Longoria, television drama's new It Girl and Parker's dating interest.
These uppity foreigners do not just ask for the ball in the crucible of a tight game; they now domesticate our desperate housewives. They win NBA titles.
Parker, the young French point guard for San Antonio, and Manu Ginobili, the Argentine shooting guard, his flowing jet-black mane trailing behind him on the break, helped Tim Duncan -- he of the Virgin Islands -- repel the Detroit Pistons in Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night at SBC Center. Three players born outside the continental United States -- the best three players on the Spurs -- led their team past born-and-bred American players to the championship. The Olympic debacle in Athens aside, international expansion never took on greater meaning.
When David Stern, the NBA commissioner, presented the Spurs' players, owner and coach with the Lawrence O'Brien championship trophy, he proudly characterized the Spurs as "truly an international team of stars." Having seen and heard Stern export America's game at the same time the foundation of the product crumbled domestically, a collective groan could be heard from the press room.
There goes Mr. Globalization again, hell-bent on selling television rights to Madagascar while a league of players at home gets away with palming the basketball.
The backlash goes much deeper than the media. At least three players not playing in the Finals spoken to this week on condition their names not be used -- black players whose NBA jobs are being outsourced -- desperately wanted the Pistons to beat the Spurs. For no other reason than, as one of them candidly said, "We gotta put some of these guys back in their place."
It may be too late, especially after Ginobili became the first foreign player to complete a historic double -- winning a gold medal for his country and an NBA championship for his team. Ginobili led Argentina to victory in Athens and had one of the more impressive fourth quarters of a close-out game in the Finals. He scored 11 of his 23 points in the fourth, penetrating the heart of the league's most physically imposing defense in the final minutes to ice the game and the title. He made both three-point shots he attempted, including a 26-footer with 2 minutes 57 seconds left, a shot that pushed the Spurs' lead to 72-65.
At one juncture Thursday night, Ginobili began a hard dribble from the left wing and elevated a few feet from the basket in the middle of the key. By the time he reached the rim with the ball, defenders were closing in. He switched the ball in mid-air from his left hand, his shooting hand, to his right, dunking stylishly. More than 18,000 people in the arena stood and roared for several minutes afterward.
Rasheed Wallace was asked why Ginobili was so tough to guard earlier in the series. Wallace refused to give Ginobili his due, stopping just short of putting him down as a player while making it clear he did not think Ginobili was a special talent. Sean Elliott, the former NBA forward who now works as a radio and TV analyst for the Spurs, has seen this dismissive behavior before by NBA players when it comes to Ginobili. He believes it goes much further than merely professional jealousy.
"When you have a Dirk Nowitzki or Larry Bird-type players, big guys who play their positions well, there's not a lot of backlash," Elliott said. "But when you have a 6-6 white guy beating the black player at his own game, then it's a little different. Every series he's been in, guys have been slow to give him respect. It's an amazing phenomenon.
Added Elliott, "If he was an inner-city kid, if Manu Ginobili was from Chicago or New York, and he was bringing the game like he's bringing it now, all the players in the league would say, 'Manu is the truth.' Instead they say, 'He throws his arms, he flails.' Every series in the playoffs this year, it's been that way. Denver did not want to give him credit in the first round. Seattle, same thing. Now Detroit."
Going on 1 a.m. Friday, Parker wore a French flag draped over him as he spoke at the podium after the game, talking about how proud he was to represent his homeland. He eventually joined his chanting friends underneath the rim.
Brent Barry, his teammate, surveyed the scene. Barry is the American-born son of Rick Barry, who led the Golden State Warriors to the NBA title in 1975 -- 30 years before his son earned a championship ring and long before players from Caribbean islands, South America and France began to earn them, too.
"Nous sommes les cham-pi-on! Nous sommes les cham-pi-on!"
"The French," Brent Barry said, walking off the floor as he shook his head. "What is it with the French?"