Tony In The Lion's Den

By: Lorne Chan

Ten hours after he scored 25 points with nine assists against Denver, Tony Parker is walking into a lion’s den.

He sits on the ground with three lion cubs. While they may be four months old, they already do have their teeth and their claws.

In an adjacent den, the cubs’ father lets out a roar so loud, it shakes Parker’s chest.

“You understand why he’s the king,” Parker said.

Parker has always had a love of animals, and earlier this month he won the right to name the three lion cubs through a charity auction held by the zoo.

The cubs are two boys and a girl, which matches Parker’s family perfectly. The lions’ names will be TP, Axelle, after Tony’s wife, and Josh, after their son.

As part of the experience, the zoo gave Parker the rare opportunity to spend time with the lions. Entering the den with two zookeepers who made sure Parker wasn’t in harm’s way, Parker played with some toys with the cubs and watched in awe as they roamed a few inches away from him.

“It was pretty impressive,” Parker said. “You worry since they’re lions, but after about 10 minutes, they felt more comfortable with me and I felt more comfortable, too. We wanted to give back to the zoo, and to have this experience too, it was just unbelievable.”

Parker has long been a supporter of the San Antonio Zoo, a non-profit organization focused on wildlife conservation and education.

He has been on the zoo’s board of directors since 2012-13 and has taken wounded warriors and their families on trips to the zoo.

“Tony’s one of our best ambassadors for connecting people to the animals at the zoo,” said the San Antonio Zoo’s executive director Tim Morrow. “He’s always had a very high interest in the zoo, having someone like Tony supporting us makes a huge impact.”

The lion cubs were born in July to first-time parents Tau and Sarabi. Zoo officials said they’re the first lions born at the San Antonio Zoo in about 40 years.

While they’re currently about 40 pounds each, they’ll grow to be about 400 pounds.

Parker spent time with the lions twice last week, also visiting with the zoo’s senior staff veterinarian Rob Coke when one of the cubs was taken in to the zoo’s medical center for an X-ray.

“My whole career has revolved around zoo medicine,” Coke said “and it’s wonderful when someone like Tony is equally as passionate about our cause.”

Parker’s mother, Pamela Firestone, said Tony and his brothers often went to the zoo when they were growing up, and also had dogs, cats and rabbits as pets. Their childhood dog was a Saint Bernard named Pepette, a dog Tony begged for after the movie “Beethoven” came out.

“We grew up with animals, so I think that’s why we love this stuff,” said Parker, who currently has two pet dogs. “My parents always took us to the zoo, and now, I always bring my son to the zoo and we always have a good time.”



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