Tony Parker: Beyond all of my dreams

Tony Parker: Beyond all of my dreams

Excerpt

Tony Parker: Beyond all of my dreams

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Excerpted from Tony Parker: Beyond All of My Dreams, published on November 17, 2020 by Triumph Books.

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

In the end, during that second Parisian year, we had a good season with a group of young players. We made it to the playoffs and were eliminated by ASVEL, who had a great team. I placed third in the MVP vote. I was 18 years old.

At the time, I thought it was a good idea to do a third year in Paris, try to win the MVP award, and then think about leaving. But my agent, Mark Fleisher, called me and said, “No, you’re going to put your name in the NBA draft right now. You’ll be a first-round pick.”

It was a strategic decision. I told myself that if I did indeed enter my name in the draft, I would be selected at the end of the first round. Meaning I’d be drafted to a good team, since the worst NBA teams from the previous season get the highest draft picks. At the time, those teams preferred to play it safe and choose players who had just graduated from American universities rather than pick a European point guard. But if I waited another year and was, for example, MVP of the French national championships, I could be drafted in the lottery and find myself on a bad team.

My father and I had studied all of that. So, I decided it was better to be drafted at the end of the first round.

Being drafted at the top really wasn’t one of my goals. Not at all. Look at Frank Ntilikina. He was drafted eighth. He was a top French player and look what team he plays for. I didn’t want that. Being drafted by a good team at the end of the first round gives you a couple of years to make your way, like I did in Paris after Sciarra. I know the NBA history really well. I know how it works if you’re chosen at the top. It can take four years before being traded to a good team. That wasn’t for me. I play basketball to win titles and didn’t want to lose four or five years of my career.

Before the draft itself, I had to complete a whole series of workouts for clubs that were potentially interested in picking me. First in Seattle with the SuperSonics, who were looking for a replacement for Gary Payton. Then in Boston with the Celtics, who really wanted me and made me do a workout the night before the draft. There was Orlando, where the coach, Doc Rivers, took a liking to me, and also in the Bay Area with Golden State. These training sessions lasted at least two hours. You did all sorts of shots, in motion or still, and then you followed that up with one-on-one or two-on-two games. The franchise staff was there, often in their entirety. They analyzed everything, even your defense. Finally, they had you do a lot of strength exercises.

During 2001, I did 11 workouts for 10 different teams. That’s huge. At the time, Europeans weren’t popular, especially point guards. From June 10 until June 25, I travelled all around the States for practices. You’re in front of the coaches, the GMs, the owners. You do a little session in the morning, then you have a little bit of time to visit the city, and you get back on a plane at 5:00 pm to go to the next city for the next practice. You have to make yourself known.

In addition to the basketball work, the Spurs even had me take a psychological test. There were a ton of questions, and a lot of different situations were discussed. They wanted to know how I would react to various things. There were very few basketball questions. Instead, they were mainly about life in general, competition, jealousy, and so on. That gave them a personality profile, and they could see if I was in tune with them or not. I never asked for the results, but they must have been good, given that they selected me.

When I was chosen 28th by San Antonio, I was so happy. For one, I knew I was landing on a good team, and two, they didn’t have a point guard already. It was perfect for me. I also knew I’d only have one shot. It was make or break. Because that’s the thing; when you’re on a good team, you’re not given the time to grow or progress. With a bad team you’re given three or four years, because no matter how bad the team is, it’s in their best interest to play you. When you’re with a good team, if you don’t play well during the first few years, you could be traded. I knew the deal and was aware of that. I had to be good immediately.

Drafted!

However, the Spurs were mistrustful of me. The first time that “Pop” saw me was in June of 2001 in Chicago. I got off the plane and immediately went to do my workout at the gym. I was tired and a little worn out from the trip. It didn’t go very well. Popovich didn’t like what I showed him at all and didn’t even want to see me again. Luckily, RC Buford, the San Antonio Spurs general manager, insisted.

Before that second workout, it was make-or-break time. I was starting to get some buzz. Pop let himself be convinced and said okay to seeing me a second time. My second workout took place in San Antonio. At the end, Pop wasn’t singing the same tune: “We’ll never get him at 28. He’ll get drafted before that in the top 15.” San Antonio was in fifth place from the previous season and so their draft pick was at the end of the first round. He said to me, “If you’re still there in the 28th spot, we’re definitely grabbing you.”

It was clear in that moment that I wanted to go to San Antonio, but I was afraid that Boston would pick me at 21. I didn’t really want to go to Boston. Their team wasn’t the best.

I got in the car after that second workout and was going to visit the city a little before going back to the airport. I called my dad and said, “Dad, I really want to play for San Antonio. I don’t know why, but I love the atmosphere here. The city is nice. I spotted some apartment buildings. I think I could live here.” That was one week before the draft.

I truly thought, like Pop, that Boston would pick me. The Celtics even had me do a private workout, all alone, a few days before the draft and assured me they would take me at 21. However, there were no European point guards in the NBA back then, and I think the franchises weren’t willing to take a risk. I did in fact drop down to the 28th pick, and the Spurs took me.

That draft was a funny story. I was in the bleachers with my father and my agent on the night of the ceremony. Each choice is made within five minutes. When the five-minute clock started before the announcement of the 21st pick, Crissie, a woman who worked for the NBA, came to see me and was holding out a Celtics hat. She said, “Tony, Boston’s going to pick you, start coming down.” So I started making my way down to the stage with the Celtics hat in hand, and then with less than three minutes away from the announcement, she said, “Ah, Tony, I’m sorry. Boston changed their mind. You can go back up.” What I learned after is that Boston’s GM and coach wanted me, but the owner got scared: “No European point guards. It’s too risky!” Instead they took Joe Forte, who played for North Carolina in college, instead of me.

I sat back down, and the Spurs managed to get me at 28. They had been trying for an hour to set up a trade and move up in the draft to get me. Pop told me that they were so happy to have me that they had thrown a wild party. It was one of the biggest parties since the Tim Duncan pick in 1997. When I called Pop a few minutes after the pick, I simply told him, “We’re going to show all the others that they made a mistake by not taking me.”

September 11, 2001

Before leaving for the NBA, I had to deal with a not-so-nice incident in court. Louis Nicollin, the owner of the Montpellier soccer club and an important French entrepreneur in waste management, bought the club in Paris. He wanted a huge trade compensation for me leaving, despite having already secured a considerable sum. Gregg Popovich was there at the hearing of this little 19-year-old Frenchman he had just drafted and who hadn’t even played for him. A little while later, the verdict came in. I was allowed to leave without Paris getting more money.

While we were in the courtroom, the hearing was interrupted by an announcement of what had just happened in New York. It was September 11—9/11. Then, on live TV, we saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center tower. I still managed to get the last plane back to Paris before they closed the airports. Pop was stuck in London for a week.

Summer League

When the Spurs chose me, I kind of had the impression we already knew each other. I had done two workouts with them, followed by a short lunch together, and we had discussed quite a bit. After the draft, I participated in the Summer League in Salt Lake City. Only Mike Brown, the assistant coach, was there. Pop hadn’t come. It was my first game. We arrived. We warmed up, and then—I’ll remember this forever—I went to see Mike Brown.

“Mike, why isn’t Pop in the bleachers?”

“He’s busy.”

I have to admit that I was hurt. I was his team’s future point guard, and the coach didn’t even bother to see me play in my first Summer League game. I told myself I was going to nail it for that first game.

I scored 29 points and had eight assists. Later on, Mike Brown would tell me that after the game, he called Pop and said, “We have found our point guard for the next 15 years. You absolutely have to come see him play in Salt Lake.”

The day of the next game, while I was warming up, who did I see in the bleachers? Pop! I looked at Mike Brown, satisfied, kind of smiling. “Oh, he decided to come after all.” After Mike’s phone call, Pop came right away and understood that he would have me play immediately, without waiting one or two seasons for me to be ready. He had to come and see me play for himself.

Everything went well that entire week in Salt Lake. I was the best point guard in the Summer League. After that, I went to the team’s regular camp. That was another world. It was the start of training for the season. I met all of the older players. It was there that I saw Tim Duncan for the first time. It was impressive. I was keeping to myself in the locker room, and I saw them all arrive. I said to myself, “Wow! No kidding! There are Tim Duncan and David Robinson. I have to be ready. It’s not the same. This is no longer Paris Saint-Germain. You’re in the NBA now.”

Obviously, I acted like it was nothing, but I was really impressed. David Robinson was my little brother’s favorite player. I could still see him lifting my little brother up in the air when he came to France a few years earlier with the Nike Air Force Tour. We had wormed our way through the crowd to get autographs. Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen were there too. We were there, wide-eyed, and we watched them play. Now I found myself sitting in the locker room with David Robinson, in the flesh, in front of me. They spoke amongst themselves in the locker room. I didn’t say anything. I watched, listened, and learned. It was the beginning of my first year.

As soon as we hit the court and the ball was bouncing, it was game on. My competitive spirit quickly took over, and I didn’t care who they were in the end. In that moment, I just wanted to show that I could play in the NBA.

The most important thing for me was showing Pop and Duncan that I deserved to be there. I was aware of Duncan’s doubts. When the Spurs drafted me, he said, “But why are we drafting a European point guard? We’ll never win a title with a European point guard.”

At the beginning of the 2000s, when you had your eye on winning titles, taking a non-American on for that position was risky. When you’re the team’s superstar, like Duncan was, and you draft a European point guard, it’s actually super risky. Technically, I was their first real project. For example, when Manu Ginobili arrived at the age of 25, he had already won the EuroLeague and was an accomplished player. With me, everything remained to be seen.

I got there with my thick French accent, though thankfully I spoke English fluently and understood everything. That was a huge advantage. As a point guard, being able to easily communicate with the staff and your teammates sped up the assimilation process. At that particular time, I didn’t understand all of that. I didn’t understand that the Spurs had taken a huge chance with me. I told myself that they took me because they had seen that I had talent and that they were going to try to shape me to fit their needs.

Throughout my entire career, Pop would talk to me about the difference between myself and John Stockton. John, the cerebral point guard, was at one end of the spectrum, and I, the aggressive point guard, was at the other. Pop’s goal was to get me closer to the middle of the spectrum. From the first day of practice, he’d say, “I know I’ll never make a John Stockton out of you, but you have to become a well-rounded point guard and get closer to the middle of the spectrum.” I was aware that I needed to become a real point guard and a real leader. Basketball wasn’t just showdowns and beating your opponent.

Excerpted from Tony Parker: Beyond All of My Dreams, published on November 17, 2020 by Triumph Books.

You can buy this book on Amazon here.

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