I interviewed former NBA superstar Tony Parker in the fall of 2019 for The Japan Times.
Here’s what I wrote:
Tony Parker reflects on great career in Tokyo visit
By Ed Odeven
The San Antonio Spurs were synonymous with winning during Tony Parker’s illustrious NBA career, appearing in five NBA Finals and capturing four titles.
They never finished below .500 during any of the iconic point guard’s 17 seasons in a Spurs uniform — and never had a lower winning percentage than .573, in 2017-18, his final San Antonio season.
By all accounts, Parker played to win and fit in perfectly with the Spurs. He retired in June after one season with the Charlotte Hornets.
The 37-year-old still keeps busy. He’s the owner and president of the French League’s ASVEL, a Lyon-based organization. This fall, he also opened an academy bearing his name (Tony Parker Adéquat Academy) in Lyon, which serves as a training center for ASVEL’s men’s and women’s pro teams, and a facility for students 15 and older to pursue opportunities in sports, music and other subjects.
This week, Parker arrived in Japan for an NBA promotional visit through the weekend, with opportunities to interact with fans and conduct a few interviews, too. He attended a U2 rock concert on Wednesday at Saitama Super Arena, where he met movie star Brad Pitt.
Around noon on Thursday, Parker, who grew up in France, confirmed that playing basketball isn’t a regular part of his current physical fitness regimen. Instead, he plays tennis at least three times a week.
“I can definitely play. I can hit the ball and stuff like that, because I’ve been playing every vacation,” said Parker, who cited Roger Federer as his favorite tennis player because he plays the game “so smooth,” a phrase he suggested describes how he played hoops.
He added: “Every summer, I don’t play basketball. I’ll play different sports, especially tennis and volleyball.”
When the question of how he hopes to be remembered as a player was delivered, Parker highlighted the chief ingredients of the Spurs’ sustained excellence.
“Well, the most proud thing that I loved about the Spurs is we did it the right way and we were very professional and we handled ourselves professionally and that’s the thing that I loved the most: we play as a team and we stick together,” said Parker, who was selected by the Spurs with the 28th pick in the 2001 NBA Draft. By doing so, they continued assembling their celebrated Big Three (along with fellow future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan, who arrived in ’97, and Manu Ginobili, who made his Spurs debut in 2002).
Parker, a six-time All-Star, owns career averages of 15.5 points and 5.6 assists per game. The Spurs retired his No. 9 jersey, which he wore for 1,254 regular-season games, on Nov. 11. Speaking nearly a month later in Tokyo, Parker called it a “surreal” experience.
“Because I never thought growing up I can have something like that,” he admitted. “I always dreamt about the NBA and wanted to play in the NBA, but my career was better than every dream that I had. It just surpassed everything. It was just an unbelievable journey, and I feel very grateful and very blessed.”
Parker pointed out on Thursday that his father, Tony Sr., a former Loyola University Chicago shooting guard in the 1970s and pro player in Europe, gave him the best advice about how to handle his career.
What were his father’s words of wisdom?
“Just delete,” Parker told The Japan Times. “He always said that word — just delete — when I missed a shot. I used to get so mad because I wanted to make every shot that I take. Obviously, it’s impossible. … So one of the best (pieces of) advice he just told me, ‘Delete, you only think about the next play, next play, next play, because what people remember is the fourth quarter and who won the game.’ “
Similarly, the significance of longtime Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s role as a mentor can’t be overstated.
“He said a lot of stuff, obviously, but if I had to choose one thing it would be how to be consistent every game,” Parker revealed. “How to show up every game with no night off. The consistency that he’s looking for every night and to keep ourselves at a high standard. That’s what was most impressive for him. He was never satisfied.”
As an owner, Parker also said he draws inspiration from the Spurs, who entered the current campaign with an NBA record streak of 22 straight playoff appearances. He called San Antonio, with Popovich at the helm since December 1996, a model for the way he runs ASVEL.
“Yes, for sure,” he declared. “There’s some stuff that I take and some stuff that I do my own way, but it’s a lot of stuff that I take from the Spurs. It’s a lot of great stuff that you can take from what we did during the run, that 20-year run, so it definitely inspired me.”
San Antonio faced ASVEL in 2006 in NBA Europe Live, and Parker wants to see the teams compete again, saying, “yeah it would be pretty cool.”
Parker tends to shy away from praising himself for his many accomplishments on the court. He prefers to dish out compliments to former teammates or the entire team.
For example, he was asked which opposing players were his most difficult matchups in the NBA.
Here’s Parker’s response: “I don’t really look at a matchup. I look at it more as a team. As a team, I always loved playing against the (Los Angeles) Lakers. The Lakers were great at the beginning of my career, ’cause it was Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) and Kobe (Bryant) and they were winning a lot, and we were the team who beat them after the three-peat. In 2003 (in the conference finals), we finally beat them.”
With the Spurs collecting titles in 2003 and 2005, Parker’s fame soared. In 2007, it reached even greater heights in the NBA Finals, when the Spurs swept LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Parker, who averaged a series-best 24.5 points, was named Finals MVP.
Then, after falling to the LeBron-led Heat in a grueling seven-game series in 2013, the Spurs avenged that defeat by dethroning Miami the next year.
“And to come back, it just shows our character. That was pretty awesome,” Parker said of the Spurs’ 2014 title triumph, “especially the way we did it. And the way we played. With the team like that, it was maybe the best we played.”
Parker sometimes keeps tabs on the Washington Wizards, whose roster includes journeyman French center Ian Mahinmi. Which gives him a chance to follow forward Rui Hachimura’s rookie season.
“He’s playing very smart, very mature,” Parker said of Hachimura. “And he’s having a very solid rookie year (and) having a lot of minutes. So obviously he’s going to improve and keep getting better every year.”