Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sports Illustrated: Q&A with the Spurs' Tony Parker

Q&A with the Spurs' Tony Parker

San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker will be on the cover of NBA Live 09, set to be released in October. While in Vancouver, British Columbia, recently for a motion capture session for the game, Parker, 26, spoke with about the Olympics, why the Spurs only win the championship in odd years and how much more popular he'd be if he played in New York. As the first European-born cover athlete of the main NBA Live game, what are your thoughts on the globalization of basketball and how it's affected the NBA?

Parker: It's great for the game. Right now, we can definitely say that the NBA is the best league in the world. It's great to have all the best players in the world in one place with their different styles. You have Yao Ming from China, or Manu Ginobili from Argentina, or me from France. You have all those guys in one place and that helps make your game better. How did you end up playing basketball in France during a time when it would have been much easier playing soccer with your friends?

Parker: Well, soccer is the main sport in France, but having a dad who's American, I always watched a lot of basketball. My dad was from Chicago, born and raised, and we were big Chicago Bulls fans. So waking up every morning at 3 a.m. to watch the NBA Finals, it was clear in my mind what I wanted to do. I always wanted to be a basketball player. Did you watch any of the NBA Finals this past season, or do you shut yourself off after you get eliminated?

Parker: I didn't watch it. I was traveling a lot. I was in Europe during that time so I didn't watch any games. I was focusing on my brother's playoffs; he won the France championship so somebody in the family won something. Despite winning four titles in nine years, you guys never repeated. [Parker played on the Spurs' last three title-winning teams.] Then again, after seeing six different squads repeat or three-peat over a 15-year stretch, we haven't had a team win consecutive titles since 2002. Why has it become so hard?

Parker: I don't know. The NBA is tough. We had our shots to get a back-to-back but stuff happened. The Derek Fisher shot [in Game 5 the 2004 conference semifinals], the Dirk Nowitzki foul [by Manu Ginobili in Game 7 of the 2006 conference finals] and then we lose in overtime. We had some great chances to get a back-to-back but sometimes things just don't go your way. You're the youngest player on the Spurs. In fact, you were one of only two players on the Spurs' active roster last season under the age of 30. Do you see the face of this team changing, if not next season, then the year after?

Parker: I don't know, we'll see. I have a lot of confidence in Coach Pop [Gregg Popovich] in making the right decisions to help our team improve. I've been here seven years and every year they've done a good job of improving the team. I'm sure they'll make the right decisions and bring in the right mix of players to help us win. How has your role on the team evolved in those seven years?

Parker: It's different. When I first came to the team I was 19, playing with David Robinson and Tim Duncan. As I grew as a player, a lot of players retired and left the team. So my role with the team has grown each year. It was a great opportunity for me to improve and get better. As the years have gone on and more guys left, my responsibility has grown.

My relationship with Pop has also grown. He's got his military ways and he's really hard and really tough and demanding, but at the end of the day, he made me a very good basketball player. And off the court he's great, too. His philosophy is to be consistent and not be too high when everything is going good and not be too low when everything is bad. Try to find that middle and be consistent and there won't be any surprises. You're not playing in the Olympics now, but the French national team has some good players with you, Boris Diaw and Ronny Turiaf, among others. What does that group have to do to get to the Olympics four years from now?

Parker: We're a young team. Our lack of experience in those big moments and those big games has hurt us, but we're improving. In 2005, we had a bronze medal in the European Championship -- that was a great first step for us. We didn't qualify for the Olympics, but the next two competitions, the European Championship in 2009 and the Olympics in [2012], are going to be huge for us because everybody will be 27 or 28 and in the prime of their careers. I'm really looking forward to winning something then. What's your take on Team USA, or the Redeem Team, as it's been called? Will they win the gold?

Parker: It's hard right now because every country is improving. The States don't dominate like they used to and so now they have to send their best players. Now that they've been together for two-to-three years, they have a good chance. I like the way they play. They're the team to beat. Why are there so few great true point guards in the NBA?

Parker: It's one of the hardest positions in basketball because you have to take basically what the head coach is saying and you have to make everybody happy on the court and at the same time you have to play your game. So it's hard to do everything at the same time because you have the ball in your hand all the time. Why is it that the Spurs are almost never the favorites to win the championship to begin the season despite the success that you've had?

Parker: It's because we're in a small market. If it said "Knicks" across our jersey, we would be talked about all the time. We'd be everywhere. Do you really think if the Spurs traded places with the Knicks that you guys would be more appreciated?

Parker: Oh, yeah, we'd be so famous. They'd love us. We'd be winning championships and it would be amazing. You already deal with that attention off the court when you go to Hollywood to be with Eva. Don't you like hiding out in San Antonio?

Parker: Sure, I love San Antonio. It's a great city, the people are very friendly and it's got great weather. To be honest, when I'm not playing basketball, I just like to relax and spend time with my wife and chill. In New York?

Parker: [Laughs] Sometimes.

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