At the tail end of his post-championship summer, Tony Parker looks in his element at the Tissot store on 5th Avenue. He's relaxed, stylish, and well spoken in three languages - though his Spanish is a bit rusty. Dressed in a slim black button-down, dark jeans and flashing something Swiss and slick on his wrist, Parker takes his time connecting with more than 100 fans, mostly Europeans, who line up for photos and autographs. He is cheerful with younger kids and flirtatious with star-struck women.
“You are the best European player in history,” a teenage tourist from Spain tells Parker, who thanks him, poses for a photo. “That’s a big compliment coming from Spain, a big rival," he says, adding, "He said the same thing to Gasol."
The veteran of four championship Spurs teams—the most recent trophy hoisted after squelching LeBron James’ run with the Miami Heat in June—Parker will begin his 14th season at 32 years old, still hungry for more. “We didn’t do a repeat,” he says of San Antonio’s quasi-dynasty of four titles in 12 years. “So it’s a great challenge.” Parker talked to MAXIM about hanging with Coach Popovich and what comes next for both him and the most cohesive team in the NBA.
People here know you and people at home know you. Is it different being famous in France?
It’s different because in the States, I had to earn it. When I came here, nobody knew me. You have to put it in perspective: back in the day, there were no Europeans in the league. I was the first European point guard to make it in the league. So that’s why I had to earn it. In France, I grew up being the next star. So it was like, everybody knew me at home. In the States, I had to accomplish a lot more than here.
You think about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie having a private life in France and recently secretly getting married there, does France have more respect for celebrities?
I don’t know if it’s respect, but I think they go less crazy, I guess. We have less paparazzi. In L.A. and New York it’s like crazy paparazzi, but in France, we don’t have that much. In a sense, I guess you can live more privately.
The Spurs went up against LeBron in three finals and in two of them it appeared that he had to carry the entire weight of his team and he lost. The Spurs epitomize the importance of having a balanced team and went to four finals in 10 years. Will a single superstar ever be good enough to sustain the sort of run that the Spurs have had?
It’s hard. It’s hard to win by yourself. Everybody who won, even Michael Jordan, he had Scottie Pippen and Dennis Rodman. You need some players to win. You can’t win by yourself. Even Kobe had Shaq and then he had PauGasol and all those guys. You need help. You can’t win by yourself.
LeBron James’ legacy will be judged by his Finals performances and championships. What is your impression of him having seen from up close in those moments? And do you see him differently than the way the rest of the world does?
I’ve never thought about that. For me, he’s one of the best players ever. That’s too complicated of a question for me. We don’t think about it like that. For me, he’s one of the best ever.
His game. He can do anything he wants to. And he won. He won with Miami, he won at both levels—FIBA basketball and the NBA. For me, he’s one of the best ever. That’s journalist stuff, arguing what’s the best legacy. We don’t care about that as players. People ask me about dynasties: the Celtics, Lakers, Bulls. For me, the best ever is Jordan and then LeBron, Kobe, Magic, Bird.
That’s easy for you to say. You’ve won four championships.
I don’t know. I never really thought about that. [Laughs.]
Specifically, what does Gregg Popovich do that makes him such a good coach?
I think he’s got a great balance between when to be tough and when to be nice, to give you confidence, to pump you up, stuff like that. He’s got a good balance. Everybody thinks he’s only tough. Off the court, he’s the best. He’ll invite you to dinner and do stuff with you. For me, it’s great, we both love wine. So we’ll both go out for a nice wine and talk about life, not even talk about basketball, that’s what I like about him. He’s like, yes, we play basketball, but there’s a whole other side of him that loves the world, loves to travel and he’s a very curious guy. He has a lot of interests in a lot of stuff and I'm kind of similar.
Do you think it is funny the way Coach Popovich addresses the media?
Yeah, I do think it’s funny. It’s not an inside joke, it’s his personality, it’s true. Then the media does a great job exaggerating. But it’s true, he is like that.
There was a chance that Popovich and Duncan would retire after last season. But they are returning this year. Why did they come back?
Because we have a great opportunity to repeat. And we didn’t do a repeat, so it’s a great challenge.
Because of your age, you are likely to play after Duncan and Mano Ginobli retire. Have you thought about what your career will be like without them?
I’ve thought about it a little bit. It’s very weird. It’s almost scary to think that I’m going to play with them. But I’ve kind of experienced that because when I played with the National team [for France in the FIBA world tournament] I played without Tim and Mano. But to play a whole year and to be with the Spurs and I don’t see No. 21 and I don’t see No. 20, it’s going to be weird. But then I trust Coach Pop and [GM] R.C. [Buford], they always bring in great players. And we have a great core with Kawhi [Leonard] and Danny [Green], young guys Cory Joseph, Tiago [Splitter], I’m confident. That’s why I signed my extension. I want to be a Spur for life. Even though it’s going to be scary that one day I'm going to be without Tim and Mano, I’ll be able to carry the torch and then Kawhi will take over.
What is the biggest difference between Tony Parker, the rookie in 2001, and Tony Parker, the veteran in 2014?
More mature. Better decision making between when to shoot, when to pass, to find that happy midle. And a better leader too because when I arrived I was 19. So you had a little more respect for guys like David Robinson and the guys who were ahead of me and as you get more mature you get more years and you become one of the leaders of the team.
What are your thoughts on the new Cavaliers lineup?
I think it’s going to be a good team. I think they’re going to have a lot of pressure because a lot of people are going to have a lot of expectations. But for me, it’s just, be healthy and stay focused and see what happens. I think the key for us is to be healthy. Whoever is going to be in front of us, if we’re healthy, we have a good chance to repeat.
Do you think it’s unfair that players can talk amongst each other and decide to play together the way Kevin Love and LeBron did?
No, I think it's great for the NBA. It creates hype around the league and media stuff. So I think it’s great for the NBA. I think Miami was great for the NBA.
What do you think of LeBron returning to Cleveland?
I think it’s great. I'm sure the Miami fans aren’t going to be happy. But I think overall, it’s great if he wants to come back home. You have to respect the wish of the guy, of the man.
Some NBA players, like Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, have started dressing like Steve Urkel. You prefer to dress like a classic Hollywood star. What do you think of that fashion statement and why don’t you start nerding it up?
I think it’s great for the NBA. I think it’s great that you have a balance. I think it’s great that the NBA decided to do that, to make us dress nice and be fashionable. That way everybody can express themselves differently. You have the guy who will be more classic European. Like me, you’ve got the guy who’s flashy, like Westbrook. And I think the mix of everything is great overall for the game and for the image of the game.
What about them dressing up like nerds?
I think it’s great. Fashion is about whatever you want to express yourself.
Can we expect you to dress like that anytime soon?
I don’t think so because that’s not how I grew up. I grew up the French way, classy, you know. But that doesn’t mean it’s better. Everybody do whatever they want, that’s what fashion is about.
Photos by Tom Corbett