Tony Parker has always dreamed big en route to the Basketball Hall of Fame
Four-time champion talks about his favorite championships, Victor Wembanyama, the 2023 Hall of Fame class and more
Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker will forever be connected as they led the San Antonio Spurs to four of the franchise’s five NBA championships together. As the youngest of the trio, Parker was in attendance as Duncan and Ginobili were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in recent years. Now, it’s his turn and he’s ready to be presented by Duncan and Ginobili and deliver his Hall of Fame speech.
“What I learned from Timmy and Manu’s induction is to just be yourself and try to show people how you felt in your journey,” Parker told Andscape recently. “I loved what Manu had to say. I loved what Timmy had to say. And you just see a side that you don’t see a lot, where you open up about your feelings, about your family, your parents or your wife or your kids.
“It is the stuff that you rarely see. And I’ve been with Timmy and Manu for a long time and it was nice to see that side. Even at their [Spurs] jersey retirement, they didn’t talk like that. But the Hall of Fame is the last time that you can talk about your career and reflect on your first love. And so that’s pretty cool.”
It would have certainly been hard to project Parker as a future Basketball Hall of Famer when he was selected 28th overall in the 2001 NBA draft by the Spurs. But the Frenchman went on to have one of the most notable NBA careers of any European.
In 2007, Parker was the first European named MVP in the NBA Finals. The six-time NBA All-Star was named to an All-NBA team four times, ranks sixth on the NBA’s all-time playoff list in assists and 10th in scoring. The 18-year NBA veteran played 17 of those seasons with the Spurs. The Spurs’ all-time assist leader also had his No. 9 jersey retired by the franchise.
The French national team legend was MVP of EuroBasket 2013 when France won its first title. In 2015, he became the leading scorer in EuroBasket history. Parker also played professionally for PSG Racing and ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne. He was inducted into the Legion of Honor in 2007, the highest French order of merit. The 41-year-old is currently president and co-owner of ASVEL Basket and is the majority shareholder and chairman of Lyon Basket Féminine, pro basketball clubs in France. Parker is the first Frenchman to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Parker has two sons, Josh, 9, and Liam, 7, who are expected to attend the Basketball Hall of Fame ceremonies on Friday and Saturday. He learned he was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame after receiving a call from chairman Jerry Colangelo. Parker was officially named to the Hall of Fame on April 1 in Houston during the 2023 NCAA Final Four weekend.
The following is a Q&A with Parker in which he talks with Andscape about his time playing for the Spurs, teaming up with Duncan and Ginobili, fellow inductee and Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, the 2023 Hoophall Class, 2023 No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, his legacy, the history of French basketball and much more.
I just wanted to become the first European point guard to make it in NBA. But I never thought I would be winning multiple championships, and now going into the Hall of Fame is pretty surreal.
What has it been like to prepare your speech for the Hall of Fame?
It’s been very special to reflect on everything, and I’ve been very nostalgic the last three, four months going through the process since Jerry called me and I got the announcement. It almost feels unreal, even when we went to Houston and we did the first stuff. I think I’m going to really, really realize it is when they’re going to call my name, and I’m going to have to walk those steps to go do my speech.
I’ve done a lot of speeches in my life with different stuff. With the Spurs, I always presented the team, or with ASVEL or I got the Legion of Honor, all this stuff that I got with the French president. But this one, for whatever reason, I feel very nervous. This one, it means so much for the basketball world. I never thought in a million years, even in my wildest dream [I’d be inducted into the Hall of Fame]. And I’m the first one to always say to the kids in my academy, ‘Dream big. And if you say your dream and he’s not laughing at you, you’re not dreaming big enough.’
But with this, I couldn’t think about that. I just wanted to become the first European point guard to make it in NBA. But I never thought I would be winning multiple championships, and now going into the Hall of Fame is pretty surreal.
The 2023 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class is a special one that includes yourself, Popovich, Dwyane Wade, Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol, Becky Hammon and many more. Moreover, yourself, Nowitzki and Gasol are all European. How great is this class?
This class is crazy to be honest. And to have three Europeans too, it’s pretty special. Because at the time, if you put it in perspective, there was no European point guard and there was not a lot of Europeans and people didn’t believe a European guy can be a franchise player. And after us three, now you see it all the time now, with [Nikola] Jokić and Giannis [Antetokounmpo] and Luka [Dončić]. And now it opens the door for different countries, different continents, and NBA is global.
So, I’m very happy that I was part of that process to make an NBA franchise believe you can count on European guys. And the class is amazing because you have D-Wade. too. D-Wade is one of the best players ever. It’s a hell of a class. It’s got to be one, maybe one of the best in history. A lot of championships.
Your two boys are old enough to take in what you’re saying at the Hall of Fame. How much are you thinking about them in this whole Hall of Fame experience?
They’re at the age now that they’re starting to understand. I brought them with me [recently] we were celebrating our 10-year anniversary of our [EuroBasket] gold medal, the only and the first gold medal in French history. So that was pretty cool, to be in a stadium with 10,000 people and they were screaming like crazy. It’s the first time that they see that, ‘Dad, wow, they really love you in France.’ It was funny, the phrases that they say. And I told them, I was like, ‘That’s just an appetizer.’
What we are going to experience [at the Hall of Fame] is going to be way bigger. The Hall of Fame, the NBA, it is a totally different atmosphere. And so, I’m very happy and feel very blessed to be able to share that with them.
How do you best — you’re going to get asked this a lot — reflect on your journey? And how did you go from being a late first-round pick to the Hall of Fame?
It is the mental side. I always dreamed big. I always thought that I was going to become the first European point guard. I believed in it. I visualized it. My dad always told me the mental side is the difference between the good players and the great players. And so, I always told myself growing up, I was like, ‘OK, maybe you’ll have some players, they’ll be taller than me. Maybe you’ll have some players, they’ll be bigger than me. Maybe you’ll have some players, they’ll be more talented or faster. But if it’s one thing they’re not going to beat me [at, it] is the mental side.’
Because when you have that and that belief, you know that you can make the impossible happen, you can do anything. And that’s really the mentality that I had growing up, and watching Michael Jordan, who was my idol. I never thought about what people said, ‘Oh, you’re too small, you’re too skinny, you’ll never make it.’ I always blacked all that out and focus on the dream and [to] visualize it and try to make it.
What are the things in your career that you’re most proud of?
Well, obviously all four championships. But if I had to choose one, I would go with 2014. Because as you win, it’s so hard to win, and the more you win, it gets harder and harder. And to be able to come back after a tough loss in 2013 [NBA Finals] and to show our character and to bounce back and to win in ’14, that’s my favorite NBA championship.
I’m very proud of our gold medal with the French team because I played every summer. And if [Hall of Famer and Spaniard] Pau Gasol was not born, I [would] have [had] a lot more gold medals. But at the same time, he’s the reason why I came back every summer because I really wanted to have that gold medal and bring the first title ever for our country. And then I’m very proud of, I’ll say the 2007 [NBA Finals], too, is very special because I became the first European to be MVP of the Finals. So, all those accomplishments, when I think about it, they’re all special in their own way.
Manu and Tim, they’re going to present you into the Hall of Fame. Can you talk about why you selected them and the connection you three Spurs stars will have for the rest of your lives?
If you think about it, it’s crazy to have a little Frenchie, a little guy from Argentina and a guy from the [U.S. Virgin] Islands, and we’re all bonded and connected for all those years. And to bring the city of San Antonio four championships is pretty amazing. It’s pretty crazy. And why I chose them is because, yes, on the court we had an unbelievable relationship, but off the court, it was even better.
And so, I always liked their values and we never let our ego be in front of the team. And so, because of that and everything that we accomplished together, without going too much on my speech, they’re the reason why I chose them to be my presenters.
And how ironic is it that you’re joining the Hall of Fame with ‘Coach Pop,’ too?
That’s crazy. I don’t even know if it happened in the history of the Hall of Fame that the player is going the same year as his coach. It’s pretty cool. And the whole process is pretty cool because Pau, I played against him since I’m 14 years old and played together at the Spurs. Dirk [Nowitzki], a huge Texas rivalry and I went to his jersey retirement. Becky Hammon, people don’t know that a lot, but she’s like my big sister. We [are] very, very close friends. And we were in San Antonio together and spent a lot of time together. Coach Pop was my coach. There’s a lot of connections in that class that makes it very special for me.
You’re also the first Frenchman to make it to this Hall of Fame. How does that honor make you feel?
It makes me very proud. I always took it very seriously the role of the ambassador of French basketball or French sport, to show Americans that we can play basketball. I always took it very seriously, to be a good example for the French generation that was going to come behind me. And [NBA agent] Bouna [Ndiaye] said it all that, ‘It comes full circle.’ When Victor got drafted by the Spurs, he texted me, ‘That’s all because of you. You were the pioneer.’ And that’s one of the best compliments I have ever had.
And it makes me happy to see where the French national team is going with all those medals recently, and as a European country the most represented in the NBA. And now we got the No. 1 draft pick, coming full circle because he got drafted by the Spurs. And so, it just makes me very proud and makes me happy. And I’m happy that I was able to inspire a whole generation of French basketball players.
Obviously, Victor’s coming to the Spurs. Did the Spurs rig it to win the NBA draft lottery to get Victor? Can you believe that?
Man, I thought it was crazy when I saw that [winning pingpong] balls. I knew he wanted to go to the Spurs, and his family wanted to go to the Spurs. He played for ASVEL. We won a championship together in ASVEL. His big sister went to my academy. His little brother is still in my academy right now. We have so many connections with the Spurs. And so, when they got the [winning] balls I was like, ‘Wow, that’s destiny.’ I guess it was meant to be for him to play in San Antonio.
Are you worried at all about Victor and the pressure he has on him which is already more than Tim Duncan and David Robinson received with the Spurs?
I worry a little bit for sure. We had lunch at my house [three] weeks ago and he came with his dad and his agent. We had a great time at my house and spent the whole afternoon. Yeah, of course I worry a little bit because the expectation are unrealistic, they’re crazy. The only one I can compare to on those expectation is LeBron [James]. And it’s crazy because you’re coming to a franchise where you have a lot of history of a lot of winning and winning championships. And I know how hard it is to win a championship. I know he’ll be fine and he’s on the perfect team. And Pop and the Spurs will protect him from that. But, yeah, he’s going to have a lot of pressure for sure.
Victor departed from ASVEL to play for the Paris Metropolitans 92 last season, which certainly had to be tough news for your franchise. It was a business decision, and you have moved on from that and continued to be a big mentor for him, How was that evolution?
For me, you can’t mix everything. I understand his decision to leave and to try to keep growing as a player. I totally respected it because I have a lot of respect and love for his family. Like I told you, I have the big sister, and the brother is still playing in ASVEL, and is still in my academy. So, we don’t mix everything. We won a championship together in ASVEL. And that’s what I’m going to remember.
At the end of the day, he chose ASVEL when he had to choose a professional team. And we won a championship together and he had an unbelievable year last [season]. And I’m rooting for him. So that’s why now, as a mentor, I want to try to help him as much as I can to succeed and for him to accomplish everything he wants to accomplish.
What did San Antonio as a city mean to you?
It’s home. And I never thought I will have a welcoming like that. When I first got drafted and I was 19, I didn’t know what to expect coming to San Antonio. And it is unbelievable, the love, the energy, the vibes of that city. They love the Spurs so much that you can see now players staying and living here still after our career, Manu, Timmy, me, David Robinson, Bruce Bowen, we all still live in San Antonio. It’s a love of the city, man. Every time I land here, the air, everything, I just love it here.
What are you now involved with as a retired player?
Well, now I’m the president of Infinity Nine Group, that’s my group, and we focus on three separate sports. So that’s why you have ASVEL, ASVEL Woman, the ski resort, the horse team. Then we have education, and so you have the academy in Lyon, and the academy in Paris that is going to open after the Olympics. And then we have Art de Vivre, and that’s where you have my wine and my champagne, Smart Good Things, the health drink, that I have that is going to come out in the States at the end of the year. So, I’ve been very busy doing different businesses.
What does it mean to be a Black owner of two professional sports franchises? With Michael Jordan also selling his majority stake in the Charlotte Hornets, who you played a season for, there are no longer any Black owners in the NBA. Also, do you have any ambitions to be an NBA owner?
Yeah, that’s a dream, that’s for sure. And right now, I’m still focusing on my country because I still want to give back. In September we have a brand-new arena opening up [for ASVEL]. It’s going to be like an NBA arena. There’s a lot of stuff that I still want to accomplish in France. But, yeah, in five, six years, that’s one of my goals to try maybe one day try to be an owner.
Is that something that you think you or another former NBA player will be able to do or is the money getting too high?
The money is definitely too high. The money is starting to be very, very high. But no, I hope that one day there will be new ones. I know LeBron is talking about that a lot. And hopefully you’ll see in the near future.
Tony Parker Sr., your father, is an African American from Chicago who played basketball overseas. What influence has he had on everything that you’ve done in basketball?
He was my other idol. You had Michael Jordan and then you had my dad. My dad was a great basketball player and he helped me a lot for the mental side of the game, coming from the U.S. And having that edge and having that supreme confidence, that came from my dad.
Why did you fall in love with the game of basketball?
I fell in love with the game when I saw Michael Jordan play, when I saw the Bulls in the ’91 NBA Finals with Magic Johnson, I just fell in love with the game. Because before that I was playing soccer. Soccer is the No. 1 sport in France. And I played 6 years old to 9 years old. And then I saw the  Finals, I saw Michael and I decided to switch. And I had more interest in my dad’s sport and decided to change. And then the Dream Team [1992 USA Basketball Olympic team] came and it changed my whole life.
What would you tell a kid that is being told, ‘You’re too small and you’re not athletic enough’?
I would tell him to work on his teardrop [shot] so you can still shoot over bigs.
Tariq Abdul‑Wahad was the first Frenchman drafted into the NBA. You were the first Frenchman to become and NBA star. Rudy Gobert became an All-Star. Now Victor is coming. Can you just talk about the evolution of French basketball and where does it go from here?
It is going the right direction. And we’re in a good place. And having a guy like Victor, I think we can be pretty proud and pretty happy as a country to have athletes like Victor, like [French soccer star Kylian] Mbappe. We really having some great times ahead of us.