Posted by: Mike Cornelius | November 15, 2015

A Short List Becomes One We Are All On

Let’s take a few minutes to recognize the accomplishments of a few athletes. At first glance those chosen for this list are a disparate group; but in fact they have two important things in common. The first is that each one has achieved greatly in his or her chosen sport; and in doing so has brought joy and pleasure to thousands of fans.

As a player, Bruce Bochy’s time in the Great Game was hardly the stuff of legend. In a ten-year span from 1978 to 1987 he wore the uniforms of three different teams, mostly as a backup catcher. But the ability to manage a team is an entirely different skill set from that required of an everyday player, and Bochy is by no means the first backstop to excel as a field general. After his playing days Bochy spent four years gaining experience as a manager in San Diego’s farm system before serving as third base coach for the big league club for two seasons. He became the youngest manager in the majors in 1995, and quickly built the Padres into a winning club. In his second season his team claimed the NL West title with 91 wins, and Bochy was named Manager of the Year. Two years later Bochy’s Padres were in the World Series; and later he led San Diego to consecutive NL West titles in 2005 and 2006.

Bochy moved up the California coast to San Francisco prior to the 2007 campaign. With the Giants Bochy has delivered three championships in a five year span beginning in 2010. San Francisco captured the first two of those titles after winning the NL West, while taking the harder route as a Wild Card entrant in 2014. This past season Bochy won his 700th game as the Giants manager, making him just the fourth man in the history of the Great Game to win 700 games for two different teams. With more than 1,700 regular season wins Bochy tops the list of active managers.

Although he is the son of a professional basketball player, Tony Parker was initially more interested in soccer. But the career of Michael Jordan changed his mind. In 2001 Parker was drafted very late in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. Fifteen seasons later, Parker has helped the Spurs to four NBA titles. As a second year player he was the starting point guard on the team led by David Robinson and Tim Duncan that defeated the New Jersey Nets at the end of the 2002-03 season in the first NBA Finals featuring two former ABA teams. When the Spurs won again two years later Robinson had retired and Parker was part of an emerging “Big Three” along with Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

In the 2007 Finals San Antonio swept the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. In that series Parker dominated, averaging 24.5 points per game while shooting 58.6% from the field and a remarkable 57.1% from three-point range. For his efforts he was named the series MVP. Seven years later Parker and his equally ageless teammates won again, defeating James now in a Miami Heat uniform; as Parker, Duncan and Ginobili set an NBA record for most playoff wins by three players playing together.

Yannick Noah and Amélie Mauresmo heard the cheers of two different generations of tennis fans. Noah won 23 singles titles and 16 doubles crowns during a playing career that began in 1977. He was ranked as high as third in the world in singles, and attained the number one ranking as a doubles player in 1986. His greatest accomplishment came on the clay at the French Open in 1983. Noah swept through the tournament, dropping just a single set over the two weeks of play, eventually dispatching defending champion Mats Wilander of Sweden 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 in the final.

Mauresmo’s career began in 1993 when she was just 14 years old, even as Noah’s was winding down. She won 25 career titles and more than 70% of her singles matches, while ascending to number one in the world in 2004. In 2006 she won a pair of Grand Slam titles. First she claimed the Australian Open in late January, then she triumphed on the grass at Wimbledon that summer. Since their retirements as players both Noah and Mauresmo have found success as coaches.

As noted at the top the distinguished careers of each of these athletes is one of two shared attributes. In the wake of current events, it is their second commonality that truly binds them and is especially worth noting. Darkness descended on the City of Light Friday evening, horrifying people of goodwill all around the globe. But what the evildoers always fail to grasp is that there is a difference between being horrified and being cowed. Every act of terror only hardens humanity’s collective resolve to go on living our lives normally even as we root out this pox.

There were explosions outside the Stade de France on Friday, where the French national team was hosting Germany in a soccer friendly before 80,000 fans. Yet even in the wake of this weekend’s anguish and grief, Team France will carry the tricolor across the Channel on Tuesday for a game against England at Wembley Stadium in London.

As for our list of athletes, Bruce Bochy was born six decades ago in Bussac-Foret in southwest France, where his father, a U.S. Army officer, was stationed at the time. Bochy is one of just eight major leaguers to be born in France. When he took the Padres to the World Series in 1998 he became the first foreign-born manager to lead a club to the Fall Classic. When his Giants won twelve years later he became the first European-born skipper to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Although born in Belgium, Tony Parker grew up in France and carries a French passport. He has played for his national team in the European Championships, the biennial FIBA EuroBasket, since 2001, helping France to the medal podium at each of the last three tournaments.

Yannick Noah was born in the north of France, while Amelie Mauresmo began life in a suburb of Paris. Noah’s 1983 triumph at Roland Garros was the first by a Frenchman in 37 years and it remains the most recent victory by a native son. Mauresmo’s two Grand Slam titles in 2006 were the most by a Frenchwoman in a single year since 1925. Her victory at Wimbledon was the first ever by a native of France.

For a moment at least, as citizens around the globe once again resolve to stand firm and unblinking in the face of evil, the normally unique bond that these four share is strengthened by a larger sense of people coming together. No matter their home, on this weekend athletes, fans, and all people of goodwill are citizens of France. Unlike the madmen we all subscribe to the timeless values – liberté, égalité, fraternité.

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