France’s Tony Parker enters the NBA Hall of Fame: ‘It was an impossible dream’

Legendary French basketball player Tony Parker will on Saturday add another exceptional achievement to a glittering sports career. The former point guard, who has a cabinet full of trophies won playing in the NBA and on the national French team, will become the first French player to be inducted into basketball’s Hall of Fame.

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Parker, himself, still can’t believe it. Days before the August 12 ceremony was set to take place at the NBA’s Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, the former player spoke to journalists from French news sites including FRANCE 24 via Zoom.

“When I’m inside the Springfield museum making my speech, then I’ll really realise what’s happening,” he said.

After decades of living in the US Parker’s speech was peppered with Americanisms, even when speaking in his native tongue.

Topics of conversation included Parker’s feelings about being recognised with such an honour and being inducted alongside friends and former rivals such as Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki.

He also reflected on his long career, from his first professional contract at Paris club PSG to winning four NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs in Texas, and his unique relationship with coach Gregg Popovich.

Read moreTony Parker enters basketball’s hall of fame: 10 key moments in his career

When you think back to being a young player at INSEP [a French training centre for elite athletes] or your first professional season at Paris club PSG where you spent a lot of time on the subs bench dreaming of playing in the NBA, did you even imagine you’d end up in the Hall of Fame?

Tony Parker: Honestly, no. And yet, I’m the first person to tell my students to always dream big. If you tell someone your dream and they don’t start laughing at you, you’re not dreaming big enough!

Honestly, even in my wildest dreams, I never imagined myself entering the Hall of Fame. When I started my career, basketball was different. It was an impossible dream. No European point guard had ever played in the NBA. There were just no Europeans. Today, getting drafted has almost become normal, but at the time it was quite an event.

[To play in the NBA players must be eligible for ‘the draft’ – a randomised selection process during which teams choose rookie players via a lottery.]

Personally, I just dreamed of playing in the NBA and being the first European to be the MVP [Most Valuable Player] in the finals. Now, being entered into the Hall of Fame is incredible. I can hardly believe it’s happening.

What does it mean to you to be the first French player to enter the Hall of Fame, and to do it alongside two players who are also the first from their country to do so – Spain’s Pau Gascol and Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki?

It’s extraordinary to be the first French player [to do this]. I have always taken my role as an ambassador for French basketball, and sport in general, very seriously. My motivation was always to show the Americans that we knew how to play basketball in France. Being the first French NBA champion and the first to enter the Hall of Fame is the continuation of that.

Entering alongside Pau and Dirk is really an honour. I have a real relationship with both of them. I was there when Dirk’s jersey number was retired from his club [an honour awarded to exceptional players after they retire]. I played with Pau with the Spurs and I’ve known him since I was 14 with all the rivalry there is between France and Spain[’s basketball teams].

When Pau and I were starting out, the Americans thought it was impossible that a European could become a “franchise player” [the top player on an NBA team that the club can build a brand around]. We were the first European players to take charge of our franchises and lead them to titles.

And now when I see that there’s no questions about considering players like [Serbian] Nikola Jokic or [Greek-Nigerian] Giannis Antetokounmpo as franchise players, I see how far we have come.

You are also entering the Hall of Fame alongside Gregg Popovich, who was your coach for almost all of your career. How does that feel? How does your past relationship compare to your relationship today?

It’s a relationship that will always be very special for me. He’s like a second father to me. I was so young when I arrived at San Antonio, I was 19 years old and he took me under his wing. He took a risk as well: he gave the ball to a European point guard. His star player, Tim Duncan, didn’t speak to me for the first season. Popovich took a chance on me and because of that we will be linked forever.

Tim Duncan summed it up well: Gregg Popovich was harder on me than he was on any player in the Spur’s history. But we achieved so much together … It’s almost funny that we’re entering the Hall of Fame together because they could have chosen any year to induct Popovich. I don’t even know if it’s ever happened before that a player enters at the same time as his coach.

Giving your speech will be a significant moment. How is the writing going?

I’m writing on my own and looking back at speeches I’ve made in the past. I’m looking at [speeches by] players who inspired me, like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. I watched speeches by Duncan, Ginobili … I’m taking inspiration from everybody.

I’ve written quite a few speeches in my life. I spoke at Duncan’s jersey retirement ceremony, and Ginobili’s as well. But this is completely different. You’re looking back on your whole life! It’s not an easy thing to do. I think I’ll be really nervous. 

In 2003, you won your first NBA title, in 2013 your first gold medal with the French team, and, in 2023, you’re entering into the Hall of Fame. What is on the cards for you in 2033?

I don’t know. That’s a very good question. Maybe winning the EuroLeague with ASVEL? [the French club of which Parker is a majority owner.]

I was born under a lucky star and I’m very, very grateful for everything that has happened in my life.

I watched the 2003 finals match yesterday with my family and friends. It was so funny to see myself there, at 21-years-old. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing. I got 26 points past [New Jersey Nets point guard] Jason Kidd. I was light years away from realising [the scale of] what I was doing.

I definitely came back down to Earth in the next match when I only scored one out of 10 shots. But when it’s your first title, you don’t understand. It goes so fast. Being an NBA champion at 21-years-old was just incredible.

In 2013, winning the first title with the French team was also something really special. And entering the Hall of Fame in 2023 will be another incredible moment that’s going to stay in my heart forever. I hope that in 2033 I will be able to celebrate something that’s on the same level.

This article was adapted from the original in French.

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