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Art Garcia

The French team is expecting Tony Parker back in time for a weekend game against Finland.
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Gimpy Parker has fans in Texas and France nervous

By Art Garcia,
Posted Aug 7 2009 1:22AM

That sigh of relief you heard has now reverberated off the Alamo and landed at the base of the Eiffel Tower. It's a sprain. Just a mild sprain.

Tony Parker is going to be OK. After a checkup last weekend by Spurs doctors in San Antonio, the star of the French national team and his right ankle are resting comfortably on this side of the pond. No need to send flowers.

The worry in San Antonio is understandable, considering the precedent. For all intents, the Spurs lost out on a chance at Larry O'Brien's hardware when Manu Ginobili re-injured his left ankle a couple of summers ago playing international ball. The injury first cropped up in the NBA Playoffs and, despite private protests from San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, the Argentine god donned the light blue and white for the Olympics.

Ginobili went down against Team USA in the semifinals and surgery followed in early September. He returned to the NBA almost four weeks into the new season, but was never quite the same. Right ankle troubles surfaced around the All-Star break, costing him another batch of games, before a stress fracture aborted his season in game No. 77. The Spurs didn't have a chance in the Playoffs without their fearless lefty and were promptly deposited in the first round by the Mavericks.

So when Parker went down recently, visions of El Contusion can-canned through the heads of the Spurs' faithful with Paula Abdul-leaving-American Idol speed. The Spurs would have been equally sunk this season -- even with Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess joining the cause -- without Parker around. With all respects to Tim Duncan and Ginobili, Parker may be -- stress may -- the Most Valuable Spur.

San Antonio's brass, beginning with Pop, did right by never publicly questioning Ginobili's decision to play for his country. The Spurs' coach, after all, has faithfully served on Team USA staffs in the past. (That Pop was passed over by Coach K to head up the last Olympic squad was itself a minor injustice.)

The franchise likewise quickly stuck up for Parker, releasing a statement thanking him for coming back to South Texas to get the ankle looked at by team doctors. Never mind that French healthcare has been rated the best in the world.

"It shows his maturity and his dedication to the Spurs organization," general manager R.C. Buford said.

The risk of injury in international competition is certainly enough for teams to not-so-gently nudge their stars to spend the summer in the Bahamas. But the pull of the homeland is great, as are the bonds of friends that have been teammates since their formative years.

Of course, the pull of a hamstring is not good for anyone.

Heck, you don't even have to be a star to have your NBA team sweating every misstep and hard foul. Parker's backup with France, Dallas first-round pick Rodrigue Beaubois, won't be with the French team as it attempts to qualify for the World Championships next summer. Beaubois is citing an injury from Summer League to justify his absence.

(The point guard banged his knee in the third game in Las Vegas, but Beaubois returned to play in the last two. Obviously, the injury wasn't bad enough to sideline the 21-year-old speedster for games with "Mavericks" on his jersey.)

Beaubois is doing right, at least by his current employers, not playing for France. Then again, he really doesn't have the juice to do otherwise. Unless you're named Parker or Ginobili or Nowitzki or Turkoglu, the safest course for an NBA player may be to not pick up that dual-colored ball in the summer.

Parker won't be in the gym when France faces Italy this week in an important qualifying round game for next month's European championships. But the French coach, Vincent Collet, said he expects his star to return this weekend for a game against Finland.

Spurs fans, hold your breath.

If you have a question or comment for Art Garcia, send him an e-mail.

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