NBA great Tony Parker looks to crown career with Olympic medal

Tony Parker

Tony Parker

After a legendary basketball career in the United States that has included four NBA championships, Tony Parker is chasing down one last dream in Rio de Janeiro.

Tony Parker’s trophy case is already chock-full of testaments to his sporting accomplishments.

The point guard helped the San Antonio Spurs become NBA champions in 2003, 2005, 2007 and 2014, picking up the MVP Finals award in 2007. During his 16 seasons in Texas he was named to six NBA All-Star games and three All-NBA Second Teams.

Parker was born in Belgium in 1982 to an American father and Dutch mother, but spent all his formative years in northern France. He became a French citizen at the age of 15 and has represented his adopted homeland in international competition ever since.

As the captain of French national team, or “les Bleus”, he won gold at the 2013 EuroBasket championships, silver in 2011, and bronze in both 2015 and 2005. Last year he became the tournament’s all-time leading scorer.

His varied achievements easily make him France’s unsurpassed basketball king, and even one of the best athletes in the country’s history. But despite all the individual and team awards, one honour has so far eluded Parker: an Olympic medal.

The wait has been a long one. The last time France’s national basketball team claimed Olympic bling was at the 2000 Games in Sydney: Les Bleus advanced to the final but lost to the United States 75-85 and had to settle for silver.

At the time, Parker was only 18 and had just helped team France win gold at the junior European championships.

The soon-to-be NBA rookie fully expected to be part of the French delegation at the next Olympics in Athens in 2004. But France failed to qualify. That Olympic let-down was repeated four years later, with France once again absent from the basketball bracket at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Even though he was at the top of his game in America, Parker’s career wearing the French uniform looked increasingly like a washout. But in 2011, a new hope emerged.

Playing alongside fellow Frenchman Joakim Noah in the EuroBasket championships in Lithuania, Parker put up an average of 22 points per game and led France to second place that year. After beating Russia in the semi-finals, and thus earning a ticket to the 2012 Olympics in London, the French captain knelt on the court in Kaunas and wept.

“I’ve been working for this for 11 years and it’s hard to explain how I feel,” he would later explain. “We’ve had so many problems, so many disappointments. But little by little we improved, started playing like a big team. I always believed in myself and in team France. I am proud to be French, I am proud of this team and I am proud to be part of it. There were summers that were very hard, but I never gave up, and this summer it finally paid off.”

Parker enthusiastically embraced the Olympic spirit. His eyes sparkled like a child’s during the opening ceremony in London, happily joining the French delegation and attending many competitions to cheer on fellow athletes.

In basketball, France played admirably, winning all their games in the preliminary round except against the United States – who would go on take gold. They lost in the knockout stage to Spain, the European champions and the eventual silver medallists.

Parker admitted that he was disappointed after losing to Spain by just seven points, but said he was “motivated to start a new four-year cycle” that would lead to Rio.

France’s basketball squad qualified for the 2016 Olympics in early July, but they face an uphill battle to reach the podium. Their group includes two-time silver medallists Serbia, Australia and the United States, the easy favourites again this year.

At 34, Parker knows it is likely to be his last chance to bring home an Olympic medal, the final accolade needed to complete his trophy case.