by Adam Figman | @afigman
Tony Parker is 29 years old. Kind of crazy, right? It feels like he’s been in the League forever, and his résumé—13 years playing professionally, three NBA Championships, one NBA Finals MVP, four All-Star Games and some pre-NBA FIBA honors—certainly looks like one owned by a vet with a clean view of retirement in the not-so-distant future.
But of course, that’s far from the case. Parker was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in ’01, at age 19, and after he spent some time in what must’ve been an intense Gregg Popovich-sponsored boot camp, the Belgian-born, French-raised point guard was winning ‘Chips by 21 and was named MVP of the NBA’s most important series at 25.
With his teammates and close friends Tim Duncan (36 years old) and Manu Ginobili (34) getting older and less effective, it’s been on Parker to guide the Spurs during the current lockout-condensed campaign. He doesn’t seem to mind. Statistically speaking, he’s putting together arguably the best season of his 11 years on the job, averaging almost exactly 20 points, 8 assists and 1 steal per game. And as a result, the Spurs simply refuse to fall off; at the moment, their record stands at 44-16, good for first place in a tough Western Conference.
We caught up with the slippery 6-2 guard right after he touched down in Oklahoma City, where he’d be playing—and, though he didn’t know it yet, beating—the OKC Thunder the following night. He’d just come off three consecutive 30-plus point performances (32, 31, 31), and about 24 hours after our conversation he’d drop 25 and dish 7 to take down Kevin Durant, Russ Westbrook and friends. Same as he’s been doing for a decade and change now, he’s still squirming his way into the paint and finding wide-open layups amidst crowded skylines of 7-footers or dropping pretty tear drops over them when space is thin.
Despite the crammed playing and travel schedule and the weight of a franchise resting squarely on his shoulders, the first thing Parker tells us is that he isn’t the least bit tired. And you know what? It sounds like he’s telling the truth.
SLAM: Do you think about having to adapt your game as you get older?
Tony Parker: Not really. Right now I feel like I’m entering the prime of my career, and the next three to four years, I’m gonna play my best basketball. I’m more thinking about that than worried about when I’m going to slow down.
I do a good job taking care of my body. I’m always worried about my diet. As you get older, I think it’s very important that you eat well and do the right stuff to stay on top of your game.
SLAM: Are you a health freak?
TP: I wouldn’t say a “freak,” but I’m careful. I don’t eat fast food, pizza, chicken wings, all that—I don’t eat that. Well, sometimes I eat pizza.
SLAM: You’ve been playing incredibly this season, but in the media your name doesn’t get mentioned with some of the other point guards. Does that put a chip on your shoulder?
TP: No, I’m used to it. It’s always been like that in San Antonio; we’ve always been under the radar. I was surprised that you asked for an interview. I was laughing with my PR guy. I was like, “What? They want to do a story on the San Antonio Spurs?” I was laughing. It doesn’t really bother me; I’m used to it.
SLAM: It seems you guys thrive on staying under the radar, too.
TP: Yeah, that’s how the franchise is run. I just got used to it, so I don’t really care when people talk about other point guards, as long as Pop (Coach Gregg Popovich) knows my value, knows what I can do, that’s all I care [about], because Pop’s paying my contract—not the magazine and [sportswriters] and all that. As long as Pop thinks I’m good, that’s all I care about.
SLAM: Can you explain what your relationship with Pop is like?
TP: Oh, it’s a great relationship. Arriving at 19 in San Antonio, and he always pushed me as hard as he can do make the best player I can [be]. It’s been like a father-son relationship. It’s been great. I’ve never had a relationship like that with a coach, where he finally lets you do your thing and gives you enough freedom to let you do your thing. For me, he’s one of the greatest coaches in NBA history.
SLAM: He’s known to be pretty tough. When you first got to San Antonio, at age 19…
TP: Oh, you can ask anybody, any of my teammates, [they’ll tell you] I was the one that got it the most. Sometimes in film sessions it was like The Tony Parker Show. He was so hard on me.
TP: Because he wanted me to be good right away. I was 19, so he had to accelerate [my game]. He was really hard on me. Now he’s laid back. Now he only screams at our young guys. Sometimes I joke with him, like, You’re going soft! [Laughs]
SLAM: When he went so intensely on you back then, were you terrified of him?
TP: No, because he knew how to push my buttons. The people who scream at me—I react even more, I don’t fold. I think Pop knew that and that’s why he rode me, because he knew that I was gonna react, and that I was tough.
SLAM: He lets you speak your mind, though.
TP: Oh yeah, of course.
SLAM: Has it always been like that or did you have to earn that?
TP: No, no, I think I earned it over the years.
SLAM: Are they on-the-court basketball conversations or off-the-court leadership-type of stuff?
TP: A little bit of both. On point guard stuff, he lets me run the show a lot more. When I first arrived, he would call plays all the time. Now, basically, 90 percent of the time he just lets me do whatever I want. He calls plays very rarely now. He trusts my judgment and what I’m gonna run. Off the court, leadership-wise, he wants me to do a lot more, and I think I earned that because it was always Timmy’s team, and as Timmy got older and Manu got older, it’s becoming more my team now.
SLAM: So the leadership roles of the team are starting to change?
TP: I think it’s just changing naturally. It’s always been Timmy’s team, and Timmy’s always been our leader. Manu, too. I was always the young guy. As they get older, [the leadership roles are] changing naturally.
SLAM: Tell me about the dynamic between you, Tim and Manu. Who does what?
TP: It’s the best relationship with teammates I’ve ever had. Timmy and Manu, they’re so unselfish, and all we care about is winning. All three of us do a good job of not caring about our egos and only caring about the team and what’s best for the team.
SLAM: What are the differences between your guys’ styles?
TP: Timmy is more quiet. Me and Manu will scream a bit more. Manu will go a little more crazy. He’s always been the craziest one, but a good crazy. I’ll say I’m a mix of both.
SLAM: You’re averaging more assists per game right now than at any other point in your career, but you’ve played on some amazing squads, so it’s not like you’re alongside better teammates. How do you explain the spike in assists?
TP: Because, back in the day—and don’t get me wrong, Timmy’s having a great season—but when Timmy was MVP, the ball was going inside a lot more. So Timmy had the ball 80 percent of the time. And as Manu became Manu, I had to share with Manu, and half of the time Manu had the ball. And Manu is a great passer, so he’ll get a lot of assists. This year Manu missed almost the whole season, so the ball is in my hands all the time, so that’s why I’m getting more assists this year, because [the ball is] less in Timmy and Manu’s hands.
SLAM: Do you think you guys can win the Championship this year?
TP: If we are 100 percent healthy, and we’re playing our best basketball, I like our chances. But we have to be healthy. That’s the key for us. Last year we dominated the regular season, and then Manu gets hurt the last game of the regular season and then missed the first game of the Playoffs, and then Timmy twisted his ankle one week before. So we just hobbled into the Playoffs, and we didn’t play our best basketball. I think for us, the whole key is that we have to be healthy. If we’re healthy, I like our chances. I still think Oklahoma City, Miami, Chicago—they’re the favorites. But I think we’re not too far from them.
SLAM: My favorite move of yours is the teardrop. Did someone teach you that?
TP: No, I always did that naturally because I’m small. Growing up I was very small, and it took me a long time to grow and so I was always the smallest on the court. I was always good at penetrating, and so the only shot I can do is to shoot over big guys with the teardrop. I was gifted with speed, but not with jumping like Derrick Rose or Westbrook, so if I wanted to score over big people I had to do that teardrop.
SLAM: When did you fully grow into your body?
TP: I started to grow when I was 13, 14. When I arrived to play professionally at 17, I arrived at 6-foot, 6-1, 6-2.
SLAM: Playing pro ball at that age must have helped you get tougher, given that you were going up against bigger and older guys when you were so young, right?
TP: Oh, definitely. Helped me with experience, too, because when I arrived with the Spurs, I already had four years experience of playing professionally and playing with older guys.
SLAM: What are you getting into away from hoops these days?
TP: I’m pretty chill. I like to spend time with my family. I like to do projects. We just opened a lounge-club with my brothers. Just did the grand opening with Fat Joe. So that’s a new venture. Just trying to prepare for the future for me.
SLAM: I saw you talking about the TP Show on Twitter. Can you explain what that is?
TP: Oh, that’s my radio show that I do in France. It’s every Monday, 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. It’s the No. 1 sports show in France right now. I like to do it. I have different guests every week, and since Fat Joe was there for the grand opening of my club, I decided to invite him on my radio show.
SLAM: So you’re on the radio talking about sports?
TP: It’s a sports show, yeah. I invite different people. I had Kobe on it, Chris Paul, David Robinson, Dominique Wilkins, David Beckham, all kinds of sports.
SLAM: You interview the athletes?
SLAM: You’re stealing our media jobs!
TP: [Laughs] No, no. It’s in France.
SLAM: As a basketball player, how you would like to be remembered? What do you want your legacy to be?
TP: As a winner. A winner, and a guy who won Championships.
SLAM: How long do you see yourself playing?
TP: I would like to do it like Steve Nash—I wanna play a long time. I love basketball. I’m very passionate about it; I’m very blessed and lucky every day. I want to play until I’m like 37, 38, like Jason Kidd and Steve Nash. I want to do the same thing.