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Tony Parker Is an All-Star

By Daniel Strickland on February 10, 2006.

Liz Robbins writes in The New York Times (“Parker Gets All-Star Nod and Needed Validation“):

Tony Parker worked the red carpet two weeks ago and appeared on “Oprah” this week with his companion, the actress Eva Longoria. He is a budding rapper in France, his home country, and has won two N.B.A. championships in his first four seasons as the San Antonio Spurs’ point guard.

But something was missing from his sudden success and celebrity. At age 23, Parker sought validation that he belonged among the league’s elite.

Parker beamed while taking congratulatory cellphone calls over a cup of tea at the Four Seasons in Manhattan as the Spurs rested before tonight’s game against the Nets. He was ready to celebrate the achievement of a goal he set during last year’s All-Star Weekend. He was in Las Vegas, where he was feeling left out and losing money at the casinos.

“I was hurt, deep inside,” Parker said. “I never talk about it because I was kind of sad because the whole coaching staff went and I was the only one of the big three left out.” His teammates Tim Duncan and Manu Ginóbili were on the All-Star team.

“I wanted to make sure this year that I played well enough that there was no discussion,” Parker added. “They had to take me.”

Parker’s 19.7 points and 5.9 assists made him an obvious choice to be a reserve. Parker is second in the league with a .551 field-goal percentage, boosted by his signature teardrop layup. He averages 12.2 points in the paint, sixth best in the league, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

With Duncan and Ginóbili struggling with injuries, Parker’s consistency has kept the Spurs (38-10) in the hunt for the top spot in the West. “He’s having a phenomenal year,” Nets Coach Lawrence Frank said Wednesday. Although every scouting report says the 6-foot-2 Parker will penetrate, “he’s still able to do it,” Frank said. “He’s lightning quick.”

After winning two titles, Parker still wanted to prove his value to the Spurs. Last summer, they hired a shooting coach, Chip Engelland, and sent him to Paris to work on Parker’s outside shot.

“He told me the Spurs had some concern whether I would still improve or stay the same player and if I was hungry enough,” Parker said, adding that they were worried that dating Longoria would hurt his motivation.

“I told Chip right away that I’m ready to work because I want to get to that next level,” Parker recalled saying. “I want to go to the All-Star Game. The championship is great, but I want recognition, too, as a basketball player.”

Parker said: “Pop told me: ‘You deserve it, you worked hard. But it’s just the beginning. You can be the best point guard in the league.’ “

Parker listed John Stockton, Steve Nash and Jason Kidd as standard-bearers. That did not make it any easier in 2003, when the Spurs recruited Kidd, who was then a free agent. They wanted Parker and Kidd to play together.

“I saw it slowing down my improvement as a point guard,” Parker said. “There was no way; I would have to be traded.”

Parker said he was grateful for the Spurs’ faith in him and for his life in San Antonio. He has been dating Longoria for a year and a half. They met in the Spurs’ locker room, where she visited with her father after a game.

“She’s been great, helping me understand my life and bringing the best out of me,” Parker said. “When you date a girl like that, it’s a lot of responsibility and making sure she’s happy. She’s worth it.”

Popovich has allowed Longoria on the team plane for some trips and allowed Parker to surprise her at the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Jan. 29, an off-day. That is a testament to the trust Parker and Popovich have developed, Buford said.

“I just think it’s part of his maturation,” Buford said. “Eva’s been very supportive of him, and she has not been a distraction to him.”

If anything, Parker’s outside interests have allowed him a break from thinking nonstop about basketball. At All-Star Weekend, Parker will unveil five songs from his album, due in September, and perform with the rappers Fabolous and Booba.

The three collaborated on one song, “Top of the Game.” Now Parker can say he belongs there.

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