Sat, Feb 11, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Tony Parker receives All-Star embrace

AMERICAN BASKETBALL NBA coaches recognized the French import's talent, voting him to the Western Conference All-Star team

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE AND AP , NEW YORK AND DALLASAP, ANN ARBOR, MICHIGANAP, NEW YORK

Ohio State forward Terence Dials, right, dunks over Michigan guard Hayes Grooms during the second half of a Big Ten conference game in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Thursday. Dials ended the night with 9 points as the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines 94-85.

PHOTO: AP

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 NBA 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.

Oprah Winfrey might not have been interested in Parker's points in the paint, but the NBA coaches recognized his burgeoning talent on Thursday, voting him to the Western Conference All-Star team for the first time.

Parker beamed while taking congratulatory cell phone calls over a cup of tea at the Four Seasons in Manhattan as the Spurs rested before Friday night'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 Ginobili 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."

Fans voted Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash as starters for the All-Star Game on Feb. 19 in Houston, and 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 Ginobili 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."

Parker's determination and cleverness in driving to the basket despite the obstacles provide a window into his NBA career. 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."

General Manager R.C. Buford was not surprised that Parker got that recognition Thursday.

"It's an indication of the hard work and time that he's put in to improve his game," Buford said by telephone. "For someone who's had the early success he's had, he's not resting on what he's accomplished. This kid has left us no reason to doubt his resolve at any time."

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was unavailable Thursday. But 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."'

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