‘I can’t be Tony Parker anymore’
Former Spurs star announces his retirement from the NBA after 18 seasons
SAN ANTONIO — Smiling as he sat down in a hotel suite in the “Alamo City,” Tony Parker looked at peace. After 18 NBA seasons, it was only fitting he was going to make an important announcement in San Antonio, where he was raised from a teenager to a man after coming over from France in 2001.
“I’m going to retire,” Parker told The Undefeated. “I decided that I’m not going to play basketball anymore.”
The 28th overall pick by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2001 NBA draft, Parker had previously said his goal was to play 20 seasons. He ended shy of that goal, but the future Basketball Hall of Famer finished his career with numerous accomplishments.
Parker formed one of the greatest trios in sports history with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Under coach Gregg Popovich, they won four championships together in San Antonio, and Parker became the first European player to win Finals MVP honors in 2007.
A six-time All-Star, Parker played in 1,254 games and finished with career averages of 15.5 points, 5.6 assists and 2.7 rebounds. His only season with another NBA team was 2018-19 with the Charlotte Hornets under former Spurs assistant coach James Borrego. In what would end up being the final game of his career, Parker scored 11 points in 17 minutes off the bench in a 93-75 loss to the Miami Heat on March 17.
Parker, 37, told The Undefeated he feels physically good enough to play two more seasons but in his mind he believes it is time to walk away.
“A lot of different stuff ultimately led me to this decision,” Parker said. “But, at the end of the day, I was like, if I can’t be Tony Parker anymore and I can’t play for a championship, I don’t want to play basketball anymore.”
Parker plans to live in San Antonio post-retirement but will spend time in France as the owner and president of ASVEL, a French professional men’s and women’s basketball club. He is also opening the Tony Parker Adequat Academy, an international school in his hometown of Lyon, France, later this year.
The following is the transcript of Parker’s retirement interview, which has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you realize you couldn’t be Tony Parker anymore?
Last season was very different for me. I had a great time in Charlotte. This is very different for me after 17 years with the Spurs. And so I knew that the time changed, and I was being very nostalgic.
And being away from the family back in San Antonio, too, that played a little bit of a role [in retiring], and so I came to a conclusion that it was just time to move on. I have a lot of great stuff in my life. A beautiful family. Beautiful kids. And so I wanted to spend more time with them.
Was there a game, a moment, where you started thinking that, OK, it’s time?
At the end of the season, I just knew it was time.
How did you come to peace with it?
It’s funny because my family more than my friends, they’re like, ‘Oh, come on. Do one more. Do one more.’ Me? It’s been a long time that I’ve been at peace with that decision because I’ve prepared myself for that, too, with all the stuff that I’m doing, the two teams I own in France and my international school opening in September. I have so much stuff going on that I’ve always been at peace with that decision.
When it comes, I’ll be ready to leave it to the young guys. The game of basketball is for young guys. So that’s why, for me, I understood very early that when it’s time to [retire], I’ll be fine with it.
A couple of years ago, you were pretty adamant to me you were going to play 20 seasons. What changed?
Yes, of course, and I wanted to play 20 seasons and I still think I can play. I had a good season with the Hornets, and I was healthy. But at the same time, now I don’t see any reason to play 20 seasons.
What was the difference between playing with the Spurs and playing with the Hornets?
For 17 years, every year that I started with the Spurs, I really thought that we had a good chance to win the championship. And so it was very weird to arrive to a team and you’re like, ‘There is no way we’re going to win the championship.’ And even if I had a great time — and the Charlotte players, they were great with me and they were great guys — at the end of the day I play basketball to win something, and it’s been like that with the [French] national team when we try to compete for a gold medal or with the Spurs to win a championship.
And if I don’t play for a championship, I feel like, why are we playing? And so that’s why it was very different for me mentally to focus and get motivated to play a game that I love, because I want to win something.
The NBA and its fans got to say goodbye to Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade this season after their illustrious careers. Do you wish you had a farewell season?
Not at all, not at all. It’s funny because my brother asked me that. ‘You don’t want to do like Dwyane and Dirk?’ And I said, ‘No, because it’s not on the Spurs jersey.’ So, for me, it’s different. Dwyane did it with the Miami jersey, Dirk was a Dallas jersey, so it was a nice way to end their careers. But for me, it was kind of different because I was in there with Charlotte, so I didn’t feel like the need of having a goodbye. For me, the goodbye will be when my jersey will be retired [in San Antonio] or I make the Hall of Fame.
What do you think about your resume now and what you were able to do?
I feel very blessed to have played for great teams with great teammates and a great coach. What we had was very special. And it’s funny because that whole year in Charlotte, I realized even more that what we had [in San Antonio] was very, very special. We were so close as teammates. And even today, like two days ago, I was playing tennis with Timmy and Manu. We were talking about the old days, and you just realize how special it was. That is 17 years together and all the wins, and being the best in terms of playoff history wins and best trio, all the records. Now, I’m starting to realize a little bit everything we accomplished.
Did Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili retiring in recent years have an impact on you?
It had a little impact, but at the same time, I still, like I told you in many interviews, I thought I was going to play my 20 seasons with the Spurs. But talking with Timmy and talking with Manu, that helped a little bit, like, ‘OK, I’m ready for this. Timmy and Manu are not playing, it’s not the same.’
What did Tim and Manu say when you told them you were retiring?
They were like, ‘Are you sure?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m sure.’ And so they’re like, ‘If you’re sure, man, I’m so happy for you. We had a great run and can’t wait to beat you up on tennis and spending more time together.’
So you told them over a game of tennis?
No, I told them at lunch. We talked on the phone, and then when we played tennis, I told them (after).
How do you think you three will be remembered?
We’re always going to be remembered together. But it was great to share that moment with them. It’s crazy. We came from three different backgrounds and came together. And to see Timmy’s jersey retired and then Manu … it was very emotional to go to Manu’s jersey retirement, and you go through all the moments and you think about what you’re going to say. It was just nice to share that moment with them.
What do you think your retirement jersey day is going to be like? Have you thought about that much?
No, not really. I don’t know. It’s going to be hard to imagine. But it’s going to be the last time that we can celebrate The Big Three in that era, so I hope it’s going to be a special night for everybody.
Have you told Coach Popovich?
I told Coach Pop, yeah. I went to see him.
So Pop wasn’t trying to trade for you and bring you back?
Nah, nah, nah.
What was the conversation like with Hornets owner and basketball legend Michael Jordan?
It was good. He understood. For everybody, they’re just happy for me. When I told Coach JB, he was just happy for me because I had a good career and was healthy most of my career. And so they asked me, ‘Are you in peace with that decision?’ And, ‘Yes, I’m in peace with that decision.’ I feel very good about the decision, and I know that I’m not going to miss basketball.
How does your body feel?
Great. I can easily play two more years. Easy, easy. Physically I feel fine, and especially with the role that I have of being a backup, and JB managed me this season. I can easily do two more years. But for me, I just don’t want to play just to play, and I never play basketball like that. I never played basketball for money and I never played basketball just to have fun. I want to win.
So what does retirement look like for you?
I’m going to be busy. My women’s team with ASVEL in France just won, so we celebrate our first championship. My men’s team, hopefully we go in the finals. ASVEL is in Lyon; it’s the second-biggest city in France. I’ve been owning the team since 2014, and so it’s a big project, and we’re going to enter the EuroLeague next year with ASVEL.
And then my academy is opening in September, so that’s going to be my international school. So that’s my way to give back to my country, give back to the young generation. So I’m very, very excited about the new project.
Is the academy a basketball school?
No, it can be anybody. It can be anybody coming to the school.
Are you gone from the United States?
No, I’m going to live in San Antonio. We live in San Antonio. It will be home; that will always be home. So I’m definitely going to stay in San Antonio, and then I’ll just travel.
What does the city of San Antonio mean to you?
It’s home. I arrived here 19 years old and they embraced me. They treated me like their son, and it’s always gonna be home. It is family.
How about the fans here in San Antonio?
I’ll always have great memories, you know. When I came back, I still remember the day, Jan. 14, when I came back with the Hornets, it was unbelievable the love that they showed through that game. I felt like my jersey was being retired. It was unbelievable. I can’t wait for the real date to see them one more time and celebrate them. I always say they’re the best fans in the NBA, and we won four championships together and I’ll always remember it.
Looking back, are you glad you went to Charlotte, or do you wish you would have re-signed with the Spurs?
No, I’m glad I went to Charlotte. It was a great experience. I met some great people, and I really appreciate Michael giving me the opportunity and [general manager] Mitch Kupchak and JB. It was a great, great time. The guys were great. So no, I don’t regret anything because I really wanted to play and I really wanted to show that I can still play. I had a good season. I was healthy. I don’t regret anything.
And it’s funny, in a way, I feel like the fact that I went to Charlotte, I feel like in San Antonio, they love me more.
There are not a lot of people of color running or owning teams in the NBA. With the experience that you’re getting in France, could you see yourself eventually coming back to the NBA, perhaps as general manager, president?
That is one of my dreams. Right now, I’m focusing on ASVEL and having a great experience. We’re building a new arena right now and we’re gonna enter the EuroLeague, and the EuroLeague is growing very fast. But the ultimate is to be one day an owner in the NB. And so I’m already having talks with different people, and they’re looking at what I’m doing in France.
I definitely have the experience, and I love doing it. It takes a lot of work, but I love it. So maybe one day, if it’s the right opportunity and it’s something that I definitely want to do, I’m just gonna wait for the right opportunity.
What is it like to be an owner on a pro basketball team?
I love it. I don’t want to just do the basketball side. I like the business side too, the marketing, how to put people in the arena, work with the digital team and work on how we can make the experience better in the arena for the fans and all that kind of stuff.
And I love the basketball side too: scouting, finding the young guy. Like right now, the point guard on my team, Theo Maledon, who is going to be a top-10 draft pick next year. He’s blossoming, and so that’s a part too, I love it too. But I like the global vision.
Looking back, going from the 28th pick in the first round to a starting point guard on four championship teams, could you have even dreamed of this? What were your expectations when you first came in the league?
My career was better than any dream that I had when I was a kid. When I first arrived in NBA, I was like, ‘Man, if I can be a good little player, be a good backup, I’ll be happy with that.’ I was just happy to be in the NBA. I never thought I’ll be a starter or be the youngest point guard to start in the NBA or the first European to be NBA Finals MVP. I never dreamed about that.
What impact do you think you had on France and Europe?
I hope that I had a good impact with Dirk and Pau [Gasol]. After we arrived, it exploded. Now you have more than 80 international players, 12 French guys in the NBA. So I always took it seriously, my role of being a good ambassador for French basketball.
Can you explain the life from which you came? I think people just assume you had a silver spoon because your dad was a pro basketball player.
People don’t realize that I grew up with nothing. We had nothing growing up, and it was rough times. But I think that’s what gave me the motivation to make it in life because I wanted my family to have a better life. And I think Pop saw that very early in me when he first interviewed me. I think that’s why Pop was so hard on me, because he knew that he can go even over the line with me because he knew that I will stay motivated and wanted to make it whatever happened. And he threw everything at me, and I was always there and ready to go.
What were some of the toughest things you went through as a kid?
Not having food in the fridge. Having people coming in your house and take the TV because we didn’t pay the bills on time. All that stuff stays in your head and you remember, and you never want that to happen to you.
What is your greatest memory of your basketball career? And your greatest disappointment?
My greatest memory? I will say the four championships, obviously, and the gold medal with the French national team because it was the first time in the French basketball history that we win a gold medal [in the 2013 EuroBasket Championship].
The biggest disappointment? I will say Game 6 against Miami in 2013. And then with the national team, I’ll say 2005 against Greece. We were up seven with 40 seconds and we lost the game. That would be — that could have been, you know, my first gold medal back in the day. That’d be the two toughest losses.
Can you talk more about that Heat loss?
Yeah, it’s painful. We came back in 2014 and we won it. We made up for it, kind of. That was maybe a great opportunity to do it back to back. It shows a lot of character, the way we lost in 2013 and to come back like that and play the same team and we basically destroyed them in 2014 playing the beautiful game.
What could people learn about the Spurs dynasty?
We have no ego and we didn’t let money affect, you know, our dynasty.
What will you miss the most?
Winning. Winning. It never gets old, and so that’s why it was nice to win with my women’s team, because winning championships is hard to explain to somebody how you feel. As a player, it was great to win championship, and now as an owner, when you build from scratch everything, I’m happier for them. It’s priceless to see their faces. But it never gets old. Winning championships never gets old.
What are you going to do now that you’re retired that you wouldn’t do because you were a player?
A lot of stuff. I think one of the first things: ski. I want to ski.
In the French Alps?
French Alps, yes. Yup, I want to ski.