The Dirk/Shaq SLAM 109 cover fiasco has been well-documented. But, if you open your issue to page 42, there is a story on a surprise favorite for 2007 Finals MVP. Maybe we secretly knew all along? Here is an excerpt of that feature.

He’s no Ghostface Killah on the mic, but San Antonio Spur Tony Parker plays a mean point guard.

By Khalid Salaam

I just watched Tony Parker’s rap video. It’s called “Balance-Toi” (translated roughly, it means “Swing Yourself”), and it’s the first single from his debut album, the eponymous Tony Parker.

It’s a light-hearted party banger type of joint, the kind of song that should get lots of play spins on mainstream radio. That is, if it was marketed better—or in the States, period—since the album is only available in TP’s home country of France so far.

American critics are killing it, complaining about the fact that he rhymes in French, as if somehow that’s a bad thing. A lot of the critics included words aimed at Parker’s fiancée, the actress Eva Longoria, slightly ridiculing her attempts to have her fiancé’s back.

These critics generally take the album much too seriously and don’t see it for the artistic expression that it is. They don’t seem to get that “rapping” is little more than a hobby for Parker and that in his real job, he demands nothing but respect. Seems that, as is often the case with Parker, people like to keep him submerged. Mais, pourquoi?

Although nobody ever really mentions his name when they talk about the better players in the NBA, it’s a falsehood to say that Tony Parker is underrated. But how it’s false doesn’t easily lend itself to understandable levels of comprehension.

Parker is a top-flight point guard, yet you don’t ever get the notion that kids imagine they’re him on the court. When reading our Punks section, I can’t think of anyone who has ever mentioned Parker as someone they model their game after. You’ll hear the up and coming PGs drop names like Chris Paul as someone worth emulating, though Paul will be lucky if he has the career that Parker has had so far.

You can’t rely on the small-market team notion as what is holding Parker down, either. A team’s market designation is related to population and local television figures, not exposure or relevance. The Spurs are one of the few teams that make League Pass seem like a waste of money since they’re always on national TV and have been this entire decade. Everybody is familiar with TP’s game because the Spurs embark on long Playoff runs every year. Standing in the Hall of Fame shadow of Tim Duncan dims Parker’s brightness for sure, as does playing alongside the careening Manu Ginobili. But those factors shouldn’t matter either.

It seems like an eternity since all those rumors surfaced after the ’03 Finals: the Spurs were to trade Parker to New Jersey in exchange for Jason Kidd. Well, I guess we shouldn’t call them rumors. Those talks had legs with cut-up calf muscles—the possibility was legit that TP would get moved. But for whatever reason, it never came to be. You hope that that Spurs thought better than to trade young for old, especially when the team had just won the NBA title against the very player they were considering trading for.

In the ensuing years since those rumors, it now seems unlikely that such a trade would have done much for the team’s fortunes. How much better could they have been? With TP at the helm, the Spurs have won their division six times running and never finished with less than 57 wins in any season. They won another championship in ’05 and are right in the thick of things for this postseason as well.

Maybe it’s some sort of international backlash that keeps Parker in the proverbial shadows. People already hold the French in contempt because of their perceived arrogance, a lack of appreciation after a certain war and a fascist dictator’s impact on history. Since I can remember, it’s been accepted to hate on the French and their pretty boy coffee choices. But since Tony is of mixed heritage, he sort of falls out of the category of a typical Frenchman. His father, Tony Parker Sr, was a successful player out of Chicago who found opportunity playing overseas. He would go on to date and marry Tony’s mother, Dutch model Pamela Firestone.

Born in Belgium but raised in France, TP showed basketball
ability early on and attended Paris’ National Institute for Sports and Physical Education. In an interview with NBA.com, he
detailed the beginning of his basketball odyssey.

“When I was 15, I first started playing with the national team and the best players in France that were under 17 years old,” TP said. “I thought I had a pretty good chance to play professionally in France, so I went to INSEP where all the best French players go. Boris Diaw, Mickael Pietrus, myself and Ronny Turiaf were all over there.

“Then when I was 17, I played in the Nike Hoop Summit, which is where the best European players compete against the best players in the States—Darius Miles, Zach Randolph, Carlos Boozer—and I played very well at that game. So that is when I knew that maybe I had a chance in the States. At first it was a dream, but when I was 17 and played at INSEP, it became a goal. Remember, when I was young and playing, there were very few European players in the NBA, especially point guards. I told myself that I wanted to be the first European point guard to play in the NBA.”

Parker turned pro in ’99 and declared for the NBA Draft in ’01, sliding down to the last pick in the first round behind such “can’t miss” prospects as Eddie Griffin and Joe Forte. And sure, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich rode him hard. Expectations have been high as hell since day one, but everything has seemed to work.

In February, Parker made his second consecutive trip to the All-Star Game, where he again showed he is among the best in the world. With per-game averages of 18.6 points and 5.5 assists per, Parker is statistically impressive, if modestly so. A true sign of Tony P’s greatness, though, is evident every time he ventures into the lane.

Think about it: despite going just 6-2, 180, the 24-year-old Parker (he’ll turn 25 during the Playoffs) gets as many layups as anyone in the League. He’s quick and fearless, so he often forces his body into spots on the floor before the defense can set up.

Parker’s propensity for going to the hole is driven home by the following stats: with two games left in the regular season, Parker was shooting 52 percent from the floor and had taken just 38 three-pointers. So yeah, Tony might speak with a French accent and smile readily, but he will go into the paint and get his points any and every way he knows how.

For more on Tony Parker, pick up SLAM 109