Tony Parker: ‘The ultimate goal is to one day own an NBA team’
A Q&A with the Spurs legend, talking business, Kobe and the best player ever
While the NBA is still hoping to return to action this season, the French Pro A league has shuttered its season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tony Parker, the president and majority owner of the French Pro A men’s and women’s basketball club ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne, said it was an easy decision.
“We were the first French team that let our players go home,” Parker told The Undefeated. “It was bigger than sports. Health is bigger than everything. … It was an easy decision to let everyone go home because it was important that they were with their families.
“I knew really quickly that we were going to be confined a long time. … When I talked to [French] government people, I knew it was going to be four or five months or a year before we got back to normal.”
Parker, who retired from the NBA in 2019 after 18 seasons, has been busy with his life after basketball. Besides his role with ASVEL, which was was the reigning French Pro A men’s and women’s champions, Parker bought two French Alps ski resorts with former Charlotte Hornets forward Nicolas Batum and opened a basketball academy in Lyon, France. He is also the co-owner of the Seattle Reign FC women’s soccer club and was named president of the NorthRock X Partners Sports, Artists and Entertainment division last year.
In an interview with The Undefeated, Parker discussed the impact of the pandemic on his businesses and life, as well as the death of Kobe Bryant, former San Antonio Spurs player Tim Duncan’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and ESPN’s documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls.
Former Spurs star Tony Parker announces his retirement from the NBA after 18 seasons
How have you and your family been personally affected by COVID-19?
I’ve been in San Antonio this whole time. I got really close to my family, really close, because my father-in-law caught it in Paris. My sister-in-law caught it, too. We were worried the first two or three weeks to make sure they would be OK. Now, they are OK. They did some testing and now they’re negative. It puts a lot of stress on my family. You never know with a new virus like this. Everybody reacts differently. That is why I am very thankful that nothing happened to my sister-in-law and father-in-law.
When did you realize it was best for ASVEL to stop playing due to COVID-19?
In March, I learned that it was going to be a long, long time for everything to be normal. When the NBA decided to suspend its season [March 11], then you see basketball in Europe, then you see soccer and then you see every sport suspended, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is very serious.’ This may be one of the biggest crises of our lifetime and life, period. Now, it’s going to take a lot of time.
How big of a financial hit have you taken?
Everybody has taken a financial hit. You just have to make sure you’re smart. Make sure your bank is going to help you through those tough times. It’s definitely through those tough times that you see where you are [financially], that’s for sure. I have always been really smart with money. That is why I decided to do NorthRock X to help all the athletes in need. … We have been very involved with the athletes that we have in making sure they are taken care of during this tough time.
Can you expound on your role with NorthRock X?
I actually started out as a client at NorthRock X Partners, which is a financial services firm and really hit it off with the CEO, Rob Nelson. The two of us created a sports and entertainment division together and we specialize in managing the lives of athletes and entertainers. Basically, taking care of all of their investments, legal services, contracts, estate planning, pretty much anything that comes their way in life.
Obviously, I can speak from experience here. I remember coming over from France and I didn’t know anybody. I had no idea who I could trust and who I should look out for. I was really selective and careful about who I trusted, but the process took forever, and to be honest, I was lucky that the people I trusted were good people. But even after I assembled a team of people that I could trust, they wouldn’t really work together. Like my tax guy and my lawyer and my investments guy would not be in contact with one another. Everybody was helping me, but nobody was working together. NorthRock X is all of those things but under one roof.
How do you keep in touch with your ASVEL players?
I do a Zoom conference call. I talk to all the players on the men’s team, the women’s team and my academy, because we had to close our school [Tony Parker Adéquat Academy in Lyon, France]. Now, we are doing every class online. We have a great partnership where they can teach every class. I’ve talked to the kids so they can stay motivated. I had to close my ski resort, too. Everything is closed. … You try to adapt on the fly. I do a lot of conference calls to reassure my employees.
What can you say about 2020 NBA draft prospect Theo Maledon, a point guard who played for ASVEL this past season?
I’m very proud of him. I have known him since he was 14 years old when he first came to my basketball camps. He came every summer. When he signed to my team at 16, we just took him and made him grow. He had an unbelievable season last year and we won the championship. This past season, he had a strong season in his first EuroLeague season. He has so much experience. In Europe, we start so young playing basketball at the professional level. He will be very successful in the NBA. He’s very, very smart.
Hopefully, he will be drafted in the first round. We will see. He’s in Lyon. There is nothing he can do right now. But every scout, every GM knows exactly who Theo is.
There are reports that you will be the next president of the Olympique Lyonnais soccer club in 2023 after Jean-Michel Aulas retires. What can you say about that?
First of all, it’s true and an honor for me. I never thought something like that would happen for me. It’s a huge opportunity. It’s one of the top 50 best teams in the world. They have one of the best structures with how they’re built with a huge budget. It’s a great opportunity to grow and have one of the best products.
To me, [Aulas] is the best [sports] president in French history with the way he started from the bottom, with where the team is and now they’re building a new arena for the basketball team [ASVEL]. We just invested in an esports team together and we bought the Seattle women’s soccer team. We are growing. It’s great to learn from one of the best.
What have you learned from your time with Aulas?
The business side. How can you keep growing and building. He has helped me a lot with the arena [plans] with his real estate, relationships with the mayor and sponsors.
Do you plan to move back to Lyon full time?
No, I plan on staying in the U.S. I love the U.S. I have been living here for 20 years, and I don’t mind traveling. The ultimate goal is to one day own an NBA team. I know with the OL group, we have big dreams.
If an NBA team became available for purchase, could your French group try to pursue ownership?
It’s a strong possibility. Right now, we have different objectives and goals. But in five to 10 years … I am the type of person who always dreams big. I have already had discussions with the soccer president about that.
How big of a soccer fan are you?
I started with soccer when I was 6 years old. I played for three years. I love soccer. Always played soccer. I have a lot of friends in the soccer world. Thierry Henry is one of my best friends and was one of my best men at my wedding. Soccer has always been in my life. It was natural to shift toward soccer.
What do you think of Tim Duncan making the Hall of Fame?
What a surprise, ha. For me, he’s the best power forward all time. He has the best winning percentage. Five titles. Everything he did in San Antonio was first-class. So, for me, it was just an honor to play with him. It is great to have teammates like that to grow with and have all those battles. We will have those memories forever. Hopefully, it will happen in September. I will definitely be there to support him.
You attended the memorial for late Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant. Why was it important for you to be there at Staples Center?
It was important to be there because he always had an impact on my career. He was always there for me, giving me advice and text messages. He was just an unbelievable player. Maybe the closest to Michael Jordan, who I think is the best ever. I played against Kobe in his prime. I will always have fond memories of Spurs-Lakers, which was a classic with all of us in our primes. We will definitely all miss him.
The last time I saw Kobe was in China last year when he was an ambassador for the World Cup. We were sitting together having conversations about women’s basketball and how we can grow it. He knew that I owned a women’s team and was investing a lot in women’s basketball. It’s just sad that I can’t see him anymore. I wish we could have done all that stuff together, because we would have done great stuff together in women’s basketball.
As a Jordan fan with Chicago family ties, what are your thoughts on the ESPN documentary The Last Dance?
It reminds me of when I was a kid. It’s very nostalgic. It’s unbelievable that they have all that footage. … It’s perfect timing to show it now that we are all in confinement. I love it. To me, he’s the best ever. It’s not even close, to me.
I knew everything. But it’s nice to have images. … It’s nice to see all those private moments with his teammates, the jokes, inside the private jets and the locker room.
What is your favorite Jordan moment?
I was 14 years old and my mom got us a trip to Chicago for Christmas. My dad organized a trip to the United Center to watch a game and meet Michael after the game and take a picture with me and my brothers. That was my first time meeting him and it was 1996 during the crazy season they had with the 72 wins.
Now, I am just happy to call him a friend. We text each other. We hung out in Paris in January in my hometown. It’s not every day I can go out with Michael to a restaurant or go out to a club and go have fun with him.