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Sport

Parker basks in French basketball glory, finally

© Photo: AFP

Text by Charlotte BOITIAUX

Latest update : 2013-09-24

A three-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, success and recognition had long eluded basketball star Tony Parker at home in France. But after claiming gold at the EuroBasket 2013, the point guard is finally basking in French glory.

After years of frustration, France, with a team packed full of NBA stars, finally captured an elusive gold in the European basketball championship on Sunday with an 86-80 win over Lithuania.

France’s first major tournament win provided French fans with a long-awaited taste of glory, but for one man in particular the victory would have been especially sweet.

Tony Parker, a three-time NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs, five-time NBA all-Star and generally regarded as one of the best basketball players in the world, has enjoyed a career packed with success since heading to the States in 2001.

But despite his exploits overseas and the acclaim it has brought him among basketball fans and commentators in the US, Parker has struggled achieve the same success and recognition in his homeland during an international career that, at times, has seemed doomed to failure.

Parker’s record with France before Sunday’s win reads like a catalogue of disappointment: defeat in the EuroBasket semi-finals in 2003 and 2005, a loss to Spain in the 2011 final and failure to qualify for both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics.

The 31-year-old has, in the past, also failed to endear himself to the French public off the court. The ex-husband of actress Eva Longoria, Parker’s persona in his early years was slightly too ‘bling bling’ for French tastes – something not helped by an ill-advised decision to launch a career as a rapper in 2007.

Tony Parker - France’s new ‘Superman’

For a long time, Parker provoked a reaction of at best indifference, at worst derision among many of his countrymen.

But with his stand-out performances propelling France to glory, possibly the best player the country has ever produced has finally become the hero in his homeland.

Following Sunday’s victory, the French press showered Parker with superlatives, with the player earning the nickname “Superman” – as was once bestowed upon Zinedine Zidane following France’s 1998 World Cup win.

His teammates, too, have also been full of praise. “He has been phenomenal once again, an exemplary leader,” said France captain and Parker’s long-time friend Boris Diaw on the eve of the final.

France forward Florent Pietru, meanwhile, described Parker as “untouchable”.

“There are no more adjectives to describe what he does,” he added.

Parker, who was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, scored 12 points in Sunday’s final, while his performances throughout the campaign, including scoring 32 points against defending champion Spain in the semi-finals, were the driving force behind France’s title-winning run.

‘I’ve been chasing this for 10 years’

It was clear how much the victory, after years of failure, meant to the player himself.

"It's very emotional as I've been chasing this for ten years," Parker told the France 2 television channel after the final.

"We have made history because the first title is always the most beautiful. I received so many messages of support this morning and I didn't want to disappoint people.”

The achievement seems just rewards for a player that, despite difficult times with Les Bleus, has never turned his back on the national team, even while winning the highest accolades in NBA.

Since his debut in November 2000, at just 18 years old and a few months after becoming European Junior champion, Parker has continued to put his talents at the service of his country. And with France now a championship-winning side, he has no plans to call time on his international career yet.

“Of course I will continue,” said Parker. “I said I will stay for France until 2016 [ the Olympics in Rio ] ."

Date created : 2013-09-24

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