Spurs' Parker preps for post-NBA future in France
PARIS (AP) - Tony Parker packed his bags for three months - just in case the NBA lockout lasts that long.
Farewell, San Antonio, and hello Villeurbanne. The Spurs star will play for peanuts in France and he's dipped into his own, admittedly deep, pockets to pay for his own insurance, too.
So why bother? Because Parker is taking a long view. Having worked alongside the likes of San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, Parker plans a management role for himself, too, in his post-NBA future.
Boss Parker. Has a good ring to it.
Rather than fritter away the next few weeks or months - however long the NBA labor dispute lasts - Parker will invest his time in the French club he partly owns, Asvel, based in Villeurbanne in the city of Lyon, one of the food capitals of the world.
He will play for minimum wage: $2,000 a month. But he'll also get valuable hands-on front-office experience working alongside club president Gilles Moretton. Asked if this was something of a business internship for him, Parker said: "Exactly, exactly.''
"I always said that after my career I wanted to be the president of a club and manage a club,'' Parker said at a news conference at a luxury Paris hotel on Thursday. "With Gilles, I have the perfect president to learn from. He can train me so that I am ready in 10 years when I retire.
"I'm learning marketing, how to speak to sponsors, how to push projects forward and all that. I want to learn.''
Parker bought shares in the 17-time French champions in 2009, some three years after he, Tim Duncan and other Spurs players played a preseason game at Asvel's 5,600-seat arena, the Astroballe, and routed the French club 115-90. After the first two years learning the ropes, Parker became general manager of basketball operations at the club this June, giving him a large say over player hires, contract negotiations and dealings with agents.
Parker said he wants to grow Asvel into "one of the biggest clubs in Europe'' and build an academy there for young players, too, next to its planned new arena.
In sneakers and ripped jeans, Parker didn't look like a typical suit - but he does talk the talk.
"First meeting, Monday, 8:30,'' he said, looking ahead to next week. Then, he joked: "We are going to have to change the hours.''
"There are always projects. There are always things to do, managing people and different personalities. I like the development side, watching the young players, recruiting them, choosing who we are going to sign. All aspects of managing a club,'' he said.
Parker said he turned down rich offers from China and elsewhere to play for Asvel. French sports newspaper L'Equipe reported that his playing insurance cost Parker $250,000 for three months. Parker wouldn't give a figure but said: "I'm not going to make my own club pay for my insurance.''
"For me it wasn't at all a question of money,'' he said. "If it was a question of money, I would have gone to China or to Barcelona. What was most important to me was to give back to France everything that it give to me.
"I'm helping my team. I invest a lot of my time, a lot of my money, with the team and I want, you know, to try to help French basketball to have a better place in France,'' he said. "I know in the States, you know, it can sound crazy. But for me, I have a bigger picture. I know what I want to do with Asvel.''
So the three-time NBA All-Star and three-time NBA champion with the Spurs will now ride to games in a team bus, live in an apartment provided by the club and "be a player like everyone else.''
Not quite like everyone else. He said he phoned one of his new teammates, 19-year-old Leo Westermann, to ask if he would lend him the No. 9 jersey, which Parker wears for San Antonio, during his French sojourn.
"He said, 'No problem,''' Parker recounted. "Then again, he didn't have a choice because I'm the vice president.
"No, I'm kidding,'' he quickly added. "Had he wanted to keep it, I would have taken another number. He said it was an honor.''
The NBA has already canceled its entire preseason, and the first two weeks of the regular season will be wiped out if there is no labor agreement by Monday.
"No one knows what is going to happen with the lockout. Honestly, I have no idea. For the moment I'm here and when it (the NBA) starts again, I will go back to San Antonio,'' Parker said. "I packed my bags for three months. Because the rumors about the NBA say that we'll start again in January, so I packed for three months, just in case.''
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester