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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Tony Parker enters basketball’s Hall of Fame: 10 key moments in his career

Tony Parker will on Saturday become the first French basketball player to be inducted into the NBA’s Hall of Fame, one of the greatest honours the sport has to offer. For Parker, the accolade is a crowning moment in an extraordinary career. FRANCE 24 looks back on 10 key moments.

For French basketball fans, 2023 will go down in history as an exceptional year. As Tony Parker ends his legendary career with an entry into the Hall of Fame, newcomer Victor Wembanyama in June became the first French player to be the first pick in the NBA draft.

At 7 feet 4 inches, Wembanyama, a 19-year-old prodigy, could do worse than to look at Parker’s career as an example of how to turn on-court potential into bonafide star power.

Parker is a four-time NBA champion, voted best player in the 2007 final, a six-time pick for the NBA All-Star Game, and a gold, silver and bronze medal winner as part of the French team in the European Basketball Championships.

Along with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Parker is one of the only four NBA players in playoff history to produce 4,000 points and 1,000 assists.

These remarkable achievements will see Parker inducted into the NBA’s Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in a ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts, on Saturday, August 12.

FRANCE 24 looks back on 10 moments that have defined the career of the former San Antonio Spurs’ player No. 9.

A frustrating start

Today, Parker’s career may read as a list of achievements, but as a young point guard he was frustrated by lack of time on the court. Parker signed his first professional contract in 1999 with Paris club PSG Racing, where the 17-year-old was primarily used as a substitute for Laurent Sciarra, point guard for the French national team.

On average he played just 10 minutes per game over the season. He shared his frustration on a blog he was writing for the club’s website.

“This year, Laurent has played one of his best-ever seasons, but the problem is that I don’t only want to play when he is playing badly. I also want to play when he’s doing well. I just want to play regularly and be useful to the team.”

“I see Juan-Carlos Navarro, an 18-year-old point guard I used to play against, plays 10 minutes a game in the Euroleague for FC Barcelona, while he’s on a team with Spanish national team point guard Nacho Rodriguez and Anthony Goldwire – an NBA draftee. I’ve only got one point guard in front of me and I’m not playing. It makes me think that PSG is not a club for young people,” he wrote in February 2000.

In his second season at the Paris club, Sciarra left and Parker became the first-pick point guard for the team. He ended the 2000-2001 season with an average of 14.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists, 2.3 steals and 33 minutes on court per match. At 19, Parker was voted the top prospect in the French championship.

A US match that put him on the map

Despite a frustrating first season at PSG, Parker seized the opportunity to shine at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2000. The annual match played in April pits a selection of the best young US players against a team of rising talent from the rest of the world.

Against top US talent, Parker made his mark in the match with 20 ponts, 7 assists, 4 rebounds and 2 steals, and caught the attention of multiple NBA recruiters at a time when no European point guards had ever played in the American league.

“My main motivation for the match was to prove myself because the Americans were saying, ‘Tony Parker is good, but we’ve never seen him play against the US, maybe he’s afraid and that’s why he is staying in France.’ I wanted to prove to them that I could play against them,” Parker wrote on the PSG blog.

“I think my performance surprised them. After the match there was a lot of interest in me and my father got calls from a lot of recruiters. I know now that I will achieve my goal of playing in the NBA.”

A European juniors title playing for France

Parker was not only committed to playing in the US – a love of playing for the French national team was a hallmark of his career from a young age. In the summer of 2000, Parker won the European title as part of the French Juniors under 18’s team in Zadar, Croatia. Among an illustrious group of young French players including Boris Diaw, Mickaël Pietrus and Ronny Turiaf, Parker was voted the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the tournament.

“When we won the Euro Juniors in 2000, I made myself a promise: to come back to the French team every summer until we won the first gold medal in an international competition for the first time in French basketball history,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Tony Parker, au-delà de tous mes rêves” (Tony Parker, Beyond All of My Dreams).

A game-changing coach

Parker’s career would have been undeniably different without the involvement of Gregg Popovich, his coach for 17 seasons at the San Antonio Spurs. When Parker arrived in Texas in 2001, the young French player was talented but had a lot to learn.

Popovich, nicknamed “Pop” by players, saw Parker’s potential to become one of the greats and decided a tough training regime was the way to get him there. Something close to a father-son relationship developed between coach and player.

“[Popovich] is a tough and very demanding coach, but he is also very close to his players,” said Diaw, a former teammate of Parker’s, in an interview with FRANCE 24.

“I remember I spent Christmas Eve in 2002 at Popovich’s house with Tony when I wasn’t yet playing in the NBA. I was already surprised that a player would spend Christmas with his coach. Then at one point during the evening I realised that Pop and Tony had disappeared. I started looking for them around the house, and I found them in the middle of a video session with Pop showing Tony mistakes he had made in his last match. Even on a Christmas evening, he wanted to make Tony improve.”

“Sometimes it was hard when I was 19. I would go back home, and you have tears in your eyes,” Parker said of training with his coach, in a video made by the San Antonio Spurs. “Now that I look back at it, I’m happy that he did that for me because it made me even stronger. He definitely brought the best out in me.”

Popovich will also be inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Parker on Saturday.

Changing technique to reach new heights

Parker’s game was always based on speed, which allowed him to beat opponents, get close to the net and deploy his signature “teardrop” shot (a high arcing shot that helps avoid getting blocked). As a young player, he was less adept at shooting from long or even mid-distance.

Hoping to improve this skill set and become one of the best players in the league, Parker began working with Chip Engelland, a specialist in shooting skills, in 2005.   

“I heard the criticism of my shots and I could see that defenders were really tightening up around me. At some point I had to start making longer distance shots,” Parker wrote in his biography.

“In summer 2005 I spent a month in Los Angeles with [Engelland] doing nothing but shooting. I changed my movement a little; I moved my thumb towards the centre of the ball like when I did my teardrop. I needed to start straighter, so that my hand wasn’t too far back.”

The work paid off. In his first four NBA seasons, Parker had a shooting success rate of 45.3%, which increased to 54.8% in the 2005-2006 season. That same year was the first time he was selected for the NBA’s All-Star Game, gathering the best players across all teams in the league.

Becoming a solo star

Parker hit new heights in the 2007 NBA finals, which saw the San Antonio Spurs face the Cleveland Cavaliers. Parker had played a limited role in the 2003 and 2005 finals, both of which the Spurs had won, but his dominant performance in 2007 marked him out as a star talent.

Over four finals games, Parker averaged 24.5 points with a 56.8% shooting success rate, 5.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 37.8 minutes. He was voted the MVP in the finals, becoming the first European player – and only the second foreign player after Nigerian Hakeem Olajuwon – to receive the honour.

‘Parkermania’ takes hold in France

By 2003 France had already seen the impact Parker had on the national game. That summer, he had won his first NBA title and French media rallied behind the star. A record number of around 50 accredited journalists from France attended the European Championships that year.

But it was eight years later that true “Parkermania” took hold in the basketball star’s homeland.

The NBA owners and the NBA Players Association failed to reach an agreement that year, resulting in a lockout that stalled the 2011-2012 season. Many European players returned to play in their homelands during the impasse, including Parker, who in October joined the national championship playing for ASVEL, a team in which he was a minority shareholder, based in the Lyon suburbs.

Parker played seven matches in France resulting in 20.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and 6.3 assists before he returned to the NBA in November. Each match saw the star playing in front of packed arenas and dozens of journalists – a rarity in France at the time.

Leader of the Spurs’ ‘Big Three’

The three following seasons from 2011 to 2014 saw Parker hit the height of his prowess with the San Antonio Spurs. As well as being a major player in his own right, he was also seen as the leader of one of the most decorated and successful trios in NBA history, the famous “Big Three” along with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

After a six-year absence, the Spurs reached the NBA finals in 2013 facing the Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The first match of the finals became a showcase for Parker’s new status in the team. First he took – and scored – the decisive final shot. Then, in the following time out with just seconds left to play, Parker took on – with Popovich’s agreement – the role of coach, giving a final tactical talk to his teammates.

The Spurs eventually lost the 2013 finals to Miami but took their revenge a year later, winning the 2014 finals against the Heat in five games.

A momentous team talk for Les Bleus

While Parker was racking up wins in the NBA, things were going more slowly when he played with the French national team. A bronze medal in the 2005 European Championships was followed by silver in 2011.

It was only in 2013 that Parker kept the promise he made to himself in 2000 and won a gold medal for Les Bleus at the European Championships.

In the semi-finals France were up against Spain, an old adversary they lost to in the 2009 European quarter-finals, the 2011 European finals and the Olympic quarter-finals in 2012.

In 2013 France’s luck looked little better – after the first quarter they were trailing by 14 points. Over to Parker, who gave a momentous speech to the French team, captured in the Canal+ documentary “Délivrance”.

Facing what looked set to be another defeat, France’s star player found the words to galvanise his teammates: “I don’t care what happens in the second quarter – even if we lose – let’s play with pride at least, and let’s play hard. If we lose after that, it doesn’t matter, that’s life. But I would rather go down fighting, not like we are playing now.” 

The speech put France on the path to victory. By the second quarter, Les Bleus were back on track, and they finished the game winning 75 to 72 in extra time. Parker ended the match with 32 points to his name.

France went on to beat Lithuania in the final to win, and Parker added a long-awaited gold medal to his trophy chest.

The Spurs’ No. 9 forever

Parker retired in 2019 at the age of 37 after playing 17 seasons for the San Antonio Spurs (2001-2018) and a final season for the Charlotte Hornets (2018-2019) – whose owner and director, Michael Jordan, was the French player’s childhood hero.

After his retirement, the Texas team where he had spent most of his career also retired the numbered jersey that Parker had worn so that no other player would ever be known as No. 9.

Parker ended his basketball career as one of France and the NBA’s greatest sporting champions. “It went so fast,” he said in a video produced by the San Antonio Spurs to mark the end of his career.

“I never took it for granted … I accomplished everything that I wanted to accomplish.”

This article was adapted from the original in French, which will be published on Saturday.

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