When the San Antonio Spurs picked 19-year-old Frenchman Tony Parker in the first round of the 2001 NBA Draft, another French teenager, this one already in Texas as a foreign exchange student, intently watched his ascent.
Parker not only become just the third French player to play in the NBA. He became one of the league’s stars.
“I was a French guy in Texas when Tony was drafted, and I was telling everyone, ‘You should look for this guy!’” documentarian Florent Bodin told the Current during a discussion of his new film Tony Parker: The Final Shot. “I was very proud of him!”
Though Bodin and Parker’s paths crossed a few times while Bodin was working as a sports journalist, it wasn’t until 2018 that the director got what he calls “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to make a documentary about Parker as he neared the end of an 18-year career, 17 of them with the Spurs.
The film, currently streaming on Netflix, explores Parker’s meteoric sports career, from a young, elite player in Paris to his final season, spent with the Charlotte Hornets.
What motivated you to make a documentary about Tony Parker?
I’m a filmmaker for a company that has made documentaries before on athletes like Teddy Riner, who is a judo [athlete], and on Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid soccer player. Tony was interested in documenting the end of his career. We started talking with him and his agent back in 2018. We decided to start filming because we thought it might be his last days as a pro baller.
Once Tony was drafted, did you automatically become a San Antonio Spurs fan?
(Laughs.) No, not really. But I really love sports. I was a sports journalist before I was a director. I specialized in basketball, so I had interviewed Tony before, but [the interviews] were not very long. So, to get to do the documentary was a dream. [Soccer player] Zinédine Zidane is the greatest athlete of French sports, but Tony is at the same level.
There’s some great footage in the film I had never seen before when Tony was a kid. Did Tony share all of that with you?
Tony has a mother who is very good at documenting Tony’s life. She had everything. She shot a lot of the video herself of Tony playing basketball. It was like pure gold for us. Tony went to a very prestigious school in France before becoming a professional. That’s where he played with [Ronny] Turiaf and [former Spurs player] Boris Diaw. There’s some very cool [video] of them when they are in the classroom, being regular students before becoming world-famous.
Someone else you interview in the film is Kobe Bryant. Describe that experience. This must have been only a few months before he died, yes?
It was one of the craziest experiences of my life. I think it might be one of his last interviews. We shot that in November 2019, and the accident happened two months after that. During the interview, he was so witty and professional, and really into talking about Tony. I asked him to introduce himself and the first thing he said was, “I’m Kobe Bryant. I played against Tony for years and years and years, and he’s responsible for me not winning more championships.” I was like, “This is going to be a great interview.” It was terrible to know that two months later he was gone.
What was it like being in the AT&T Center the night the Spurs retired Tony’s jersey?
It was very special seeing all the fans. The Spurs lost the game that night, but nobody left the arena after the game. They wanted to recognize Tony and his career. I think at that point, Tony realized that he had an amazing career. Before that, he never wanted to talk about the end of his career with me. But after the jersey retirement, he realized that he had done some pretty great things in the NBA. It was very special for us because we went to the after-party and there were all these different cultures mixing together. It was like recreating the Tony Parker Universe in one place. I saw David Robinson dancing to a French song, and I was like, “Man, that’s weird.”
There is a French journalist in the documentary who says Tony felt “disrespected” because the Spurs didn’t sign him for his final year in the NBA. Did you get a sense that that’s how Tony felt, or was that just one person’s opinion?
Maybe that word is too strong, because there is no problem with the Spurs organization and Tony. There was a playing time problem and there was a money problem. He and his entourage felt like he could make more money somewhere else. I think the Spurs thought that Tony would never leave and that he would finish his career in San Antonio. I think they had too much confidence. It was a business problem, and Tony is a very good businessman.
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