Tony Parker: From NBA superstar to Lyon president-in-waiting

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Tony Parker
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The 37-year-old San Antonio Spurs legend has a deep love of football - and that could mean taking a side step into the sport of his childhood

As a four-time NBA champion, the MVP of the 2007 NBA finals and a six-time NBA All-Star, there is no doubting the sporting pedigree of Tony Parker. The 37-year-old is reckoned to be a candidate for NBA Hall of Fame now that he's retired, yet his story in sport is certainly not over.

Since calling time on his career at the end of the 2019 season, the San Antonio Spurs legend has returned to France, the country in which he was raised, to move into sports administration.

Currently, he is the president of ASVEL Basket, a position in which he has shown much promise since taking it in 2014, but there is now a strong suggestion that he is being groomed for a career at one of the country’s biggest football clubs.

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Jean-Michel Aulas is the emblematic president of Lyon, having overseen the Rhone club since taking control in 1987. Over his near quarter-century reign, no French side can better the seven Ligue 1 titles that OL have won, while they have also reached a Champions League semi-final and built one of the most impressive stadiums in Europe.

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At 71, the renowned negotiator is preparing to take a step back before his 75th birthday in March 2024 and it is Parker who is being teed up as a surprise potential replacement.

There is logic behind the move. Basketball is one of the most popular sports in the country and Parker its most successful ever domestic exponent. There is little doubt, then, that he would have the respect of his peers, while he worked under one of the most successful head coaches in the NBA in the form of Gregg Popovich, providing him with an excellent background in man-management.  

“It’s true that Tony has the profile to take care of a world-level professional sports team with all the economic and communication components associated with it,” Aulas told L’Equipe . “I tell myself that he checks all the boxes.”

Club legend Sonny Anderson agreed via an Instagram livestream earlier this month: “He could be the ideal candidate.”

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Parker is a good friend of Thierry Henry, and could be found in the executive boxes when the World Cup winner was playing for New York Red Bulls in MLS. Henry introduced him to Aulas at an EA Sports event in 2005, and Parker would not approach the task completely green either.

Indeed, the No.9 he famously sported with the Spurs came from his background in football, as well as the legendary Michael Jordan, who wore that shirt with the 1992 ‘Dream Team’ at the Barcelona Olympics.

“Nine was my number long before that,” he told Le Parisien in November. “I wore it when I played football when I was little. And it wasn’t because I was the centre forward who scored the goals! I played on the wing.

“I remember the 1990 World Cup as if it were yesterday. It’s the first World Cup I saw on TV, at eight years old, with the Italy of Toto Schillaci. These are the images that were impressed on me from when I was young because I was fully into football. And even if I switched to basketball after the Michael Jordan finals, I always maintained my love of sport.”

The next logical step, therefore, seems a move into football and the role of OL president is one that the self-confessed Football Manager addict has admitted that he would like to take.

“For me, it’s an honour to be considered as a candidate and that Jean-Michel is considering me for the position,” he told So Foot

“Of course, I appreciate what it involves and the work behind it. I know I’ve got a lot to learn. But if one day he asked me to take over, I couldn’t refuse it.”

The links between Aulas and Parker are stronger than mere platitudes in the press. The two already work closely together at ASVEL, national basketball champions, and Reign FC, the Washington State-based NWSL side. Both clubs are part-owned by the OL Groupe, while Parker has stakes in each, including a controlling one at the former.

“His experience alone is tremendous. For me, it’s priceless,” Parker explained of his mentor. “In my opinion, Jean-Michel is the best president of the last 30 years in all of sports. He’s an example from which I am inspired and I think I can learn a lot more from him.

“What Jean-Michel has set up is something quite unique. In my opinion, OL are one of the best structured clubs in Europe.”

Should Parker one day take the step into Aulas’ role, he has big boots to fill. His predecessor still dreams of leading Lyon to a European title and so too does his potential successor.

“The beauty of sport is that anything is possible. You can have the biggest budget and not win,” he explained when asked if dislodging Paris Saint-Germain from their throne of Ligue 1 champions might be possible in the medium term.

“Besides, PSG have still not won the Champions League, despite their investments.”

Boasting a bullish attitude, he would demand the best from his team.

Remembering France’s 1998 World Cup win, he said: “This victory has provided me the motivation to mark French sport in the same well. Before, a favourite phrase of the French was ‘the important thing is taking part’.

“I never understood that sentence. For me, the most important thing is to win. In France 98, we finally saw France winning. It inspired me as it inspired other French athletes and even the whole country.”

Furnished with the attitude, the sporting background and increasingly the business experience, Parker’s move into football threatens to be Aulas’ final masterstroke.

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