SAN ANTONIO – Before becoming a four-time NBA champion, six-time All-Star, and NBA Finals MVP, Tony Parker was a 19-year-old point guard who Greg Popovich decided was worth taking a gamble on. It clearly paid off.
- Tony Parker jersey retirement was Monday
- Parker was 19 when he started playing for the Spurs
On Monday night, the last of the Big Three numbers were retired as Parker's No. 9 jersey was added to the rafters in the AT&T Center.
Over the course of almost two decades, Parker has not only hyped up San Antonio fans before game day, but he’s actually turned a seemingly unlikely group of people into Spurs fans as well: the French.
"San Antonio loves the basket," said Sylvain Nykein, owner of La Boulangerie bakery in San Antonio.
When the Spurs won the 2014 NBA Finals, Nykien couldn’t believe how wild San Antonio fans went for a local team.
“It was like when we (France) won the World Cup in ’98, but this is just a team from a town," said Nykien, who moved to the city from France in 2011.
But he already knew how massively famous Tony Parker was, especially in his home country.
"You go to Paris or wherever and you talk about San Antonio and they go, ‘Oh, that’s where Tony Parker is,'" Nykien said.
When a teenage Parker was drafted by the Spurs in 2001, the local French community saw him as one of their own.
“I think for French people and French speakers, it was a real point of pride that Tony was here in San Antonio," said Charles Matt, president of the Alliance Francaise de San Antonio.
And it says a lot about San Antonio that Parker decided to stay in Texas after retiring.
“For a guy like this to want to stay in San Antonio, that’s a good thing," Nykien said. "Because that’s how you know San Antonio is nice place to be.”
But for as much as Parker’s done locally, his contributions to the sport back home haven’t gone unnoticed.
"France used to not be so good at basketball until this guy came," Nykien said. The French national basketball team won the EuroBasket for the first time in 2013 and Parker was named MVP of the tournament.
Plus, he introduced the French to the Alamo City.
“People know San Antonio because of Tony Parker in France," Nykien said. "That’s a funny thing, but it’s real.”
“So we’ve seen him grow up into this fabulous young man," Matt said. "Who couldn’t be impressed with the way he’s embraced San Antonio culture and the Spurs culture?”