Q&A with Tony Parker

On July 23, the Charlotte Hornets signed free agent point guard Tony Parker. Parker will be playing for just his second NBA team after 17 years with the San Antonio Spurs, where he won four NBA Championships, was named the NBA Finals MVP in 2007, and was selected as an NBA All-Star six times. Parker sat down with Matt Rochinski of hornets.com recently to discuss what brought him to Charlotte, his expectations for the upcoming season and more.

Rochinski: “First off – welcome to the Charlotte Hornets! We are thrilled to have you!”

Parker: “Thank you very much. Thank you. I’m very happy to be here.”

Rochinski: “The first question fans obviously ask when they see Tony Parker is signing with the Charlotte Hornets is, ‘Why Charlotte?’ Why did you make that decision?”

Parker: “I just wanted to do something different, experience something new. I’ve been with the Spurs for a long time – 17 years. I kind of figured it was going to be Manu (Ginobili’s) last year and for me, I just wanted to – I know it sounds simple – but I just wanted to see something else - go to the East Coast and go do something else in the NBA. I did everything I wanted to accomplish with the Spurs. They’ve been amazing to me, but I just felt it was time to go another direction. It helped with Nicolas Batum being here because he’s like my little brother. We’ve been playing together for a long time with the (French) National Team. J.B. (James Borrego) is the new head coach who has been with me for 10 or 12 years as an assistant with the Spurs. I’ve always had a great relationship with him. When he called me, I [thought] it’d be a great challenge to help him out in his first head coaching job. All of this made the decision pretty obvious to me. And then when M.J. called, it was over.” 

Rochinski: “That doesn’t hurt when the G.O.A.T. reaches out! How did that go?”

Parker: “He texted me, and everybody that’s known me for many years knows M.J. was always my idol growing up. He was my favorite player and that’s who I wanted to become. He made me want to play basketball. The way that he carried himself through his career was a great example for me to follow during the Bulls’ years, Dream Team and all that. That’s when basketball exploded in Europe. For me, it’s like I’m closing my basketball chapter playing for Michael, my last couple of years in the NBA. I thought it was pretty cool.” 

Rochinski: “You mentioned 17 years with the Spurs. With all the accolades you have, did that text make you feel like a little kid again when all of sudden, you get a text from Michael Jordan?” 

Parker: “Oh, of course. I always get excited. Like you said, he’s the G.O.A.T. and for me, I always get excited when you can talk to somebody like that with all the experience that he has. I can’t wait to see him at training camp and start talking.” 

Rochinski: “You mentioned Nic is like your little brother. Nic was telling us a story about that when you first made the decision to come here and talk to Nic, he thought you were here to talk about (ASVEL Basket), the team that you guys own together (in France). Now, was that not the case? How did this all develop?”

Parker: “I came to Charlotte in June. I came to Charlotte and we had some stuff to do with the basketball team that we own together in France. But at the same time, I started asking questions about the Hornets and how was the franchise and he started looking at me like I was crazy. I didn’t think he took me serious at the beginning and I was like, ‘No, I’m serious. How’s the team? How’s the travel?’ I started asking specific questions that I needed to know as a veteran about how it’s going to be. He started answering the questions and when I left Charlotte (after a day), he said ‘Are you really serious? You’re really thinking about it?’ I was like, ‘Hey, you never know.’ I love the Spurs, obviously. Technically, I will always be associated with the Spurs, remembered as a Spur, but I was like, it could be a great opportunity to come to Charlotte and help a team and do something different. Nic looked at me kind of crazy and then when I called him in July and said I think it’s going to happen, he was really happy.” 

Rochinski: “How excited are you to take the court with Nic?”

Parker: “I’m super happy. I love playing with him. We had our best years with the National Team, playing together, being the top 2 guys. Winning the gold medal (at EuroBasket 2013) was obviously the highlight because it was the first time that the French National Team won something in its whole history. Nic was a blessing to me because I had been on the National Team since 2001 and we were having a hard time getting that title. Then in 2009, we had that young skinny kid coming along to our team and I was like, ‘Man, he’s pretty talented. I think we can do something with him.’ In 2011, we get the silver medal (at EuroBasket) and go to an Olympics in London in 2012 and in 2013, got the gold medal. We had a great run together. I hope I can do the same thing here with him and try bring the Hornets back to the playoffs. What’s it been? Two or three years since they made the playoffs? Hopefully, I can make Nic play his best basketball and have everybody play the right way, play together and have a great year.”

Rochinski: “He mentioned you guys had a heck of a run together. You also mentioned earlier that you had a heck of a run with J.B. With him taking on a head coaching role now, what can you tell us about playing for J.B. that made you want to come here and play for him?”

Parker: “First of all, I know he wants to bring a great culture here. I know we’re going to try and represent the city of Charlotte and the Hornets organization the right way. Try and bring everything that we did in San Antonio, but adapt it too, because we have a lot of young guys and the NBA is going a different way with everybody shooting threes and playing faster. You’re always adapting, the game is always evolving. Everything that we learned from the Spurs I think can be very helpful for all our young guys. At the same time, I think we have great basketball minds. I saw in the stats that (the Hornets) lost like 15 games by three points or less and were 24thin assists, so that’s not really good. We have to play together. All that kind of stuff, I think me and J.B. can bring that to the table and hopefully the team can buy into it and we can have a great year and have fun together.”

Rochinski: “How much are you looking forward to working with Kemba Walker, an All-Star point guard?”

Parker: “Kemba and I have played against each other for a long time and always had a great relationship on the court. He was the first guy I saw when I first signed when I came in July. He welcomed me and we went out together to hang out. It’s pretty nice to have the All-Star of the team being very happy to have you come in to his team technically. I’m going to try and do my best to make sure that when he comes out, the team is playing at the same level and we don’t have any letdowns. If sometimes J.B. puts us together, it’d be great. I think that we could have two guys who can create. He can play a little bit off the ball and I can create for him. I think it’s going to be fun to play with Kemba.” 

Rochinski: “For you also, in terms of taking on a leadership role, you’re coming in as the veteran on the team. How much are you embracing that?”

Parker: “I think that’s going to be my biggest role – to bring that discipline that it takes to play for a great team for so long. It takes a lot of dedication. It takes a lot of discipline. You have to be every day, day by day. Some of the young guys, they take it for granted being in the NBA or going out or all that kind of stuff. You just have to find a happy middle. I think that’s my job to make sure that they realize how great an opportunity we have being in this league, playing for a great organization, make sure that we give it back and make sure we win games because winning is more fun than losing. I told the organization from Day 1, ‘Don’t try and mess up my streak now. I’ve had 17 years in the playoffs. I didn’t come here to mess up my streak.’” 

Rochinski: “I know Hornets fans everywhere are thrilled to hear that! That’s what we want! That’s the kind of attitude we want in here. Nic had a chance to sit down and talk with Chris Kroeger on a podcast and he mentioned in that podcast that already, you’ve laid into him on the court during workouts. How important is that?”

Parker: “It’s hard for me to keep it in. In the first two or three plays we started by having two or three turnovers and I was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa guys. I’m sorry.’ I had to bring everybody in. We can’t start like that. From Day 1, every fast break we have to score the basket, reduce our turnovers and know that the basketball is valuable. It’s all the little stuff that you learn. It takes one play to lose a game or lose a championship or lose a playoff series. That’s why, from Day 1, I’m not going to let anything go and Nic knows I’m very disciplined and organized. I had to. I had to bring them in and say, ‘We have to do it like this.’”

Rochinski: “You’ve been working with the team for a little while now. How do you feel about this team and how do you feel as if you’re going to fit in?”

Parker: “It’s better than what I expected. I think it’s a great The thing I like the most is that we have a great mentality. The guys are great. They want to learn. They want to do well, so that’s a good start. If you can play together and you enjoy playing with each other, that’s a very good start. They really want to win. I think they’re tired of losing. combination and hopefully, it’ll carry along when you start losing with the up and downs of the season. As long as we stay together, I think we’ll be fine.”