It's not always easy to make your dreams come true, unless perhaps you are Tony Parker, one of the most famous and celebrated basketball players in France. He's a player who won four NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs, he also got a finals Most Valuable Player award in 2007 and he put on an unforgettable performance during France’s Eurobasket triumph in 2013. He has so far succeeded in everything he has decided to do. He wanted to become an NBA player, so he did it. Not only did he become that NBA player, but he was also the strongest point guard in the league for a long time. But where is he at now? What are his retirement plans? Euronews journalist and fellow basketball player, Stefania De Michele, got down to the nitty-gritty with the iconic player that is Tony Parker.
A 20-year career
“Even in my wildest dream, when I was a kid, I couldn't have imagined everything that happened and the way that it finished with the jersey retired, that's something that I never thought would be possible for somebody like me coming from Normandy and where I grew up in a little tiny town. It was nice to finally realise because since I retired, slowly but surely, I'm realizing everything that we accomplished with the Spurs. And right now I feel very nostalgic with the book and then the movie on Netflix and it is nice to see your whole 20 years in a film.”
On the 11 of November 2019, the Spurs retired Parker's No. 9 jersey. No one is allowed to choose to wear that jersey number now in San Antonio. This honour is reserved for players who have gone above and beyond for the team. Parker played 17 seasons for the Spurs, during which time they won four titles. He was selected six times for the NBA All-Star Games and, in 2007, he was the Finals Best Player, a first for a European player. He played his last season with the Charlotte Hornets, a team managed by Michael Jordan. Parker says Jordan has always been his idol and the one who inspired him to try to become like him, a champion. While playing with the French national team, Parker was named the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of EuroBasket 2013, following his team's victory over Lithuania in the final. He finished as the tournament's top scorer with an average of 19 points per game. In 2015, he became the all-time leading scorer in the EuroBasket competition.
Tony, the turning point in your career came in 2001 when you were 19 years old. You joined one of the NBA’s smartest franchises, the San Antonio Spurs. It gave you the opportunity to flourish. The coach at the time was Popovich, the trainer with the most wins in NBA history. You also had outstanding teammates, like Duncan and Ginobili. What was that like?
“I was very lucky to be in that franchise, obviously. Yes, I did work very hard but at the same time, I was in a franchise where they really wanted to win. And the values of that franchise, they just made me a better person, they made me a better basketball player, but they made me a better person too. It takes hard work, discipline, sacrifices and I was very determined to make it to the NBA. Back then too, at the time, there were no European point guards. There were not a lot of Europeans so I felt all the pressure for the new generation to make sure that I do well and I earn the respect from the American players, from the American coaches. And so early on, it was very hard at the beginning, but it made me really strong mentally to show them that, you know, Europeans we can play basketball.”
You've achieved everything you wanted to achieve. You could rest now, but instead you’re investing in young people with your Academy in France. Tell us about the academy?
“For me, it is very important to give back. Like I said earlier, I feel very blessed and I had great coaches. The way I was raised, I don't forget where I come from. So I started with buying a team called Asvel in Lyon and so I started with that. Then I started to buy the women's team because for me, I wanted to do a project that is unique and so I wanted to do something where men and women are the same and have the same team. And it finished with the academy. We opened a year and a half ago. And that was something that was special for me because I wanted to take care of the elite in basketball, but I also wanted to take care of all the kids who are not going to make it professionally because I know that 95% of those kids, they're not going to become professionals. And so the slogan of the academy is ‘come to the academy and get a job’. I take that very seriously. And for me, it's very important that those kids, they make it in life, that they have a job and they're just happy.”
Parker is the majority owner of the Asvel basketball club in Lyon. The club competes in the top-tier French Pro A League. But Parker also has a passion for football and in 2023 he is supposed to become the president of Olympique Lyonnais.
Tony, COVID-19 is now a big challenge. How are you facing it at the academy?
“Yeah, this is very tough right now. Obviously, we’re living in a crisis that is one of the biggest of all time. And so it's very hard to try to keep all the projects going. But you have to be creative, you have to be positive, and you have to try to find solutions. But for sure, we are living right now through tough times. But at the end of the day, it can only make you stronger mentally and your character.”
You are now in the ‘Netflix Hall of Fame’ due to an exciting documentary about your career: “Tony Parker, the final shot”. What is it like to see your life in a movie?
“It's an honour. It's an honour. When Netflix first approached me about doing the movie, I was like, oh, wow, I couldn't believe it because I was doing something with my company, Infinity Nine Media. We were like following me and getting some footage of my last year. And then early in the project, you know Netflix came and they said we would be interested to do your movie. And so for me, it was an honour.”
Where do you feel most at home?
“I always say that I have two homes. Now I live like 50/50. I’m 50% in the US, 50% in France, and I love both countries. But I always say that I have two homes, so I feel home in both.”
San Antonio is your home too, you must have been following the recent US elections. The transition from Trump to Biden is in many respects, not a seamless one. How do you feel about it?
“I'm very happy with the way we're going, it's a new day and I'm very happy the way the election went. And I think we have a bright future.”
What’s your biggest dream now?
“The biggest dream? I think right now, as I'm getting older, it’s just staying healthy and my family staying healthy and my kids are staying healthy. I think the biggest thing, especially in the world we live right now, is just wishing health for everybody.”
What message do you have for today’s youth?
“If I had any advice, it’s just be positive and just believe in your dream. You know, I think you have to dream big. If you say your dream to somebody and he doesn't think you’re crazy, then your dream is not big enough.”