CHARLOTTE, USA – For the first time in 17 years, NBA standout Tony Parker will not don the black, silver and white of the San Antonio Spurs when the league’s season opens.
After having won 4 championships with Gregg Popovich’s team, and at the end of his contract, Parker signed a two-year deal with the Charlotte Hornets, reportedly worth $10 million.
Though he relishes the “new challenge,” it will be hard to see Parker anywhere but Texas.
The six-time NBA All-Star – whose African-American father played professional basketball in Europe, mainly in France – intended to retire in San Antonio, but the stars were not aligned for that storybook ending.
In an interview with AFP, he says the deal was simply not a good fit.
“In terms of my role on the team, coach Popovich and I did not have the same vision,” said Parker, clad in a French national team t-shirt after a practice session.
Since suffering a quad injury in the spring of 2017, the long-time Spurs starting point guard knew he could no longer play the same leadership role he once had.
But he was hoping to keep the number two spot, and not be demoted to riding the bench.
And while his relationship with Popovich – who selected him with the 28th overall pick in the 2001 NBA draft – is nearly that of a father and son, Parker says he understood it was time to move on, without bitterness.
“I spent so many good years in San Antonio – I wanted to leave on good terms,” Parker explains.
“You have to understand how Pop operates. He wants to win a title every year. The NBA is a league of young players. He saw my role differently. I understand his thinking.”
‘These legs have a lot of miles’
So, he headed north to Charlotte, where he will be tasked with spelling Hornets star Kemba Walker in running the offense – and perhaps teaching him a few things from the veteran’s playbook.
“For me, playing 15 minutes a game would be really great. I can still play 15 tough minutes, but I can’t say if I could play 35. At a certain point, you have to be realistic,” Parker says.
“I’ve been a pro for 22 years. These legs have a lot of miles behind them.”
In 1,198 regular-season games over 17 seasons with the Spurs, Parker averaged 15.8 points, 5.7 assists and 2.8 rebounds a game.
He was named the Most Valuable Player in the NBA Finals in 2007 – one of the four title years with the Spurs, along with 2003, 2005 and 2014.
Even at age 36, Parker still exudes major star quality – his new fans in North Carolina were quick to line up for autographs from the future Hall of Famer, who helped France win the 2013 EuroBasket title.
His legs may be getting weary, but his winning spirit is undiminished.
“He’s the active player with the most championships in all of the NBA – that’s huge,” fellow Frenchman and new teammate Nicolas Batum told AFP.
“He brings that champion vibe that we need.”
During the practice session, as Hornets coaches look on, Parker offers advice to the younger players, some of whom were barely born when he joined the league.
He watches them play, talks with them, gives a few pointers. And when his teammates hit the locker room, he stays on the court, running drills, sending shot after shot into the air.
Batum, who played with Parker on the French national team, is one of the reason why he opted to come to Charlotte. He also will reunite with coach James Borrego, Popovich’s longtime assistant at the Spurs.
Another sweetener was the presence of his childhood idol Michael Jordan – the basketball icon owns the Hornets.
The heady mix is almost enough to help Parker forget that after seeking NBA glory every year, with a viable chance of winning the title, he finds himself with a franchise that has never won it all.
The team is even younger than Parker is. It was launched in 1988.
“It’s a team in the middle of the standings that hasn’t had much luck, let’s say,” Parker notes, ahead of the team’s season opener on October 17, Wednesday, at home against the Milwaukee Bucks.
“They tried to get top players to come, like Dwight Howard last year, but it didn’t work. They have struggled to regularly come out on top of the Eastern Conference.”
Not much left to prove
For Parker, as his career winds down, success on the court is no longer the most important thing in his life.
“The goal here is simply to make the playoffs. For me, that is a new challenge. I’ve already won everything in my career – 4 titles, the Finals MVP trophy, All-Star status – I don’t have much left to prove.”
With his professional ambition on the wane, Parker’s famed trophy room – an ultra-secure facility where he keeps his hardware – will remain at his home in San Antonio.
His family is not moving to Charlotte. Instead, he rented an apartment.
“Texas will always be home,” he says with a smile. “In everyone’s eyes, I will always be a Spur.” – Rappler.com
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