1 - When did they become the Big Three in your mind?
Michael Erler: 2005 I'd say. Both Manu and Tony had enough moments by then, and they clearly established themselves as the second and third best players of a championship team. As I've said before, Ginobili should've won Finals MVP.
Bruno Passos: My memory is shockingly bad (which will be obvious enough by my following answers), but it did seem to come along quite subtly when I look back. I was going to say it's because the term Big 3 wasn't thrown around that often in the pre-Twitter era, but apparently the Bucks trio of Sam Cassell, Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson were called that, as well. Either way, I think by the 2005 Finals, they were the Big 3 to me.
Taylor Young: Definitely in the 2005 championship run. The 2003 team only featured moments of brilliance from Manu and occasional signs of things to come from Tony. But, they obviously weren't the Big 3 then, that was Timmy's team. 2005-2007 was the closest we got to seeing all three of them in their primes at once, though I don't think Tony's truly came till a few years later. Them being dubbed as a Big 3 is somewhat funny because they weren't simultaneously dominant in the way other Big 3's might have been. They all had their time. They're the Big 3 in my eyes more for their constancy. They've always been there and I am scared of looking on the Spurs court one day and seeing none of them.
Jesus Gomez: I don't think there will be much disagreement here. They were good before then but 2005 is the year Tony and Manu joined Tim as stars.
J.R. Wilco: From the moment they took a 2-0 lead in the 2005 Finals with back-to-back blowouts of the defending champion Detroit Pistons. The team still leaned on Duncan so much, but it was obvious that the weight of the franchise was resting on a tripod, not a single column anymore.
2 - What is your first/most indelible memory of Tim Duncan?
Erler: My first memory is of Duncan dominating the first playoff game he ever played, at Phoenix, his rookie year. The Spurs were down double digits in the fourth quarter and he just singlehandedly took the game over and they won. Right then, I knew we had something special. My indelible memory comes from last year, a blowout loss at Detroit. It's late in the game and Duncan is patiently explaining a play-call to Shannon Brown. He knows Brown won't be there long, the Spurs only signed him because of an injury epidemic. Even Brown knows he won't be there long. But in a situation where every other star would've checked out --or checked out some cheerleaders-- he was being the perfect teammate.
Passos: I went to an autograph-signing event for Tim Duncan his rookie year at Alamo Quarry. I was 12 and waited for two hours with my dad on what I believe was a Saturday morning. For some reason, Duncan arrived late and signed far fewer people's stuff than what was anticipated, and I'm pretty sure I held it against him for a while. Somehow, the jersey still fits even though I'm a foot taller now. I take that as some sort of sign.
Young: I played with the Spurs on a PlayStation game before his rookie season and thought he was awesome. I don't think I really watched him until the 1999 Memorial Day Miracle. But, I will have his performance in Game 6 of the 2003 Finals burned into my memory. His three pointer too. There are so many. Then most Spurs fans felt Timmy's pain in the low of 2013, but then were united in his relief that came with the 2014 championship. How can you ever forget those?
Gomez: Like Taylor, my first memory of Tim Duncan came via a video game, namely NBA Action 98. He had an overall rating of 79 and wasn't all that good but he got blocks and rebounds. My most indelible memory game 1 of the Suns series in 2008. That three-pointer at the end of overtime is still one of the most clutch plays I've ever seen.
Wilco: So many great memories that I agree with have already been mentioned, so I'm going with the moment when everyone who ever said that they didn't like Tim Duncan because he was too boring just lost that excuse forever. (Skip this if you're still not over the 2013 Finals loss.)
The way he let his mask slip and vented his frustration in front of everyone just about destroyed me. The fact he came back and won it all again says so much about the man's determination.
3 - What is your first/most indelible memory of Tony Parker?
Erler: My first memory of Tony is terribly unfair to him. I remember him getting benched in the 2003 Finals in favor of Speedy Claxton. He was what, 20 then? 21? It's crazy the expectations that were put on him when you think about it that way. My indelible memory of him is Pop, Tim and Manu picking on him during the "Champions Revealed" video for taking two weeks off for "various maladies." He's always been the kid brother of the group.
Passos: I was a big Antonio Daniels fan, and Parker's rise coincided with AD's eventual exit. Most of my early memories of TP involve him getting a feel for the NBA game, testing his limits, and Pop scowling. Lots of scowling.
Young: His shot clock beating bucket in Game 1 of the 2013 Finals. Tony got robbed of two legendary moments because of the Spurs faltering in that series. That game 1 shot and his step back clutch 3 over LeBron in Game 6 could have lived forever in Spurs and basketball lore. It's a reflection of Tony's career. He's always been the under-appreciated one of the three and I don't think Spurs fans will realize how wonderful he was until he is gone.
Gomez: I remember not liking Tony very much because he would not pass the freaking ball to Manu! My Spurs viewing was Manu-centric for so long that everything was filtered through him, so my first memories of Parker involved me yelling at the screen to pass the ball. My most indelible Tony moment is him telling Pop "I have to trust my teammates in this series. Kawhi was great" during the second finals against the Heat.
Wilco: The first thing I remember about Tony is just how small, fragile-looking, and quick he was. The first moment I remember really being impressed with him was in the first two games of the Los Angeles series of 2004. The Lakers had no answers for Parker. He drove around everyone they put in front of him and it wasn't a series until they changed their entire defense to keep him from killing them with layups. He couldn't punish that defense because his jumper was wonky. (Remember when he used to lean to his left every time he shot it?) So he worked for years to improve it and now he's a reliable mid-range weapon.
4 - What is your first/most indelible memory of Manu?
Erler: For Manu, I remember bits and pieces of his rookie year. I lived in California and didn't have League Pass so I could only see the nationally-televised games and the highlights. About 3/4 of the way in the regular season he scored 20 against the Rockets and dunked around Yao and I remembered thinking, "This kid has a lot of passion and energy to him." My indelible memory comes from the 2005 season, when he went right past Joe Johnson and slammed viciously on Amar'e Stoudemire, during his 48-point career-high game. You see Johnson with this look on his face like, "Who the hell is this dude?"
Passos: The hair. The spinning. The distinctly opportunistic way of playing on both sides of the ball. Maybe the first concrete case I could make to my friends that no, the Spurs were not 'boring'.
Young: I first saw him live in a regular season win over the Celtics during his rookie year. He had a few moments that made you hold onto your seat and your eyes get big. Foreshadowing. I remember calling him Emmanuel too. Manu is so far from a perfect player, but he was so loved. Fan's relationship with him is like a friendship with any real person. There's moments where you want to kill them, hug them, stay away from them or be with them for hours. Manu is real, he brings out real emotions and he's just Manu.
Gomez: My first Manu memory is from before he joined the Spurs. I'd seen him play before but I became a fan of his for life during the World Championship of 2002 in Indianapolis. I'd never seen an Argentine player like him. Heck, I'd never seen an international guard like him. My most indelible Spurs-related Manu moment came in his first game of his rookie year. I was kind of worried he would struggle in the NBA. Watching him play without fear that first game against the Lakers erased any doubts I had.
Wilco: First round of the playoffs in Manu's rookie season, 2002-2003. Late in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Suns with the game on the line, Manu gets a steal on the baseline -- a part of the court where he had no business being on that play -- and takes the ball up the court. Spurs win by two points. I remember watching while on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, just in disbelief that we had a wing who combined athleticism with fearlessness and the ability to know where he needed to go to make a play even if it didn't make sense to anyone else on the planet.
5 - In 20 years, how will basketball people talk about them? Are they the biggest of all the big threes?
Erler: People have such short attention spans these days I really don't think they'll be given their just due. Parker's and especially Manu's counting stats just weren't that impressive, though obviously they fared a lot better in the advanced metrics. The small-market stuff and the Spurs "boring" reputation pre-2012 will hurt them. When non-Spurs fans think of Parker, they'll think of his speed, his ability to make layups and tear drops and his short-lived marriage to Eva Longoria. When they think of Manu they'll remember him for being a clutch player, for making crazy passes, the Euro-step and of course, the flopping. Duncan will resonate the most obviously, because he's one of the all-time greats, but again, people will just reduce him to monotone answers and bank shots. Time is cruel that way. Parker said it best, "If we played in New York we'd be treated as Gods." But who knows if the reclusive Duncan (not to mention Pop) and the attention-loving Parker could've survived in a major market? I think Ginobili could've handled it, because he was a rock star in Argentina anyway, but it could've gone really badly for everyone else.
Passos: Yes, they are. People will be able to look back and see the way the team evolved its style of play, during possibly the greatest sea change the NBA's gone through, while each player retained his own unique essence. The three of them will usually be mentioned in the same breath as Pop -- not that I think it's a bad thing. You could argue that teams have had better duos (Magic and Kareem, Michael and Scottie, etc.), but in terms of longevity and success (both regular season and championship), these three are in a class all their own. Sorry, Celtics fans.
Young: In my eyes they'll always be the biggest three. They made me love basketball and stretched from my childhood to mid adult life. I don't know how basketball people will remember them and I don't really care. They're my big three. There can be no other.
Gomez: I have no idea if they are the biggest of the big threes and I don't think it matters. Not to me anyway. The obsessions with ranking everything is one that I don't suffer. Hopefully people will remember this era fondly and give all three individuals the respect they deserve.
Wilco: I think they're the best Big Three but I care about them so much that I'm sure I'm blinded by bias. I don't know how people will talk about them, but I know that they've earned their place in the discussion. That's enough for me. Sports arguments are never really won anyway. What counts is when your name is still being brought up years and years later. When people are still talking about you after you've been away from the game for decades, you're being memorialized for all of your work. Not being able to be forgotten -- that's what sets the all-time greats apart. That's what Tim, Manu, and Tony have achieved.