NBA's Parker even affecting Spurs' eating habits

Tuesday, June 3rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- To appreciate how much of an effect Tony Parker has had on the Spurs, just look at the way he eats his french fries -- dipping them in a mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup.

"Tim (Duncan) eats them that way too now," teammate Malik Rose said.

Parker has indeed influenced the tastes and talents of the San Antonio Spurs, who begin their quest for a second NBA title on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the best-of-seven championship against the New Jersey Nets.

Parker, who turned 21 less than three weeks ago, will become the fourth-youngest player in NBA history to compete in the finals behind Jonathan Bender (19, Indiana, 2000), Darryl Dawkins (20, 1977, Philadelphia) and Magic Johnson (20, Lakers, 1980).

"It's a dream to play in the NBA Finals. Three years ago I was waking up at 3 a.m. to watch the finals, and now I'm playing in them," Parker said.

His matchup against Nets point guard Jason Kidd will be one of the keys, and it comes with an intriguing subplot. The Spurs will have more than $14 million worth of salary cap space over the summer when Kidd becomes a free agent, and it's possible they could make him an offer.

Will that affect Parker?

"I've been asked that question 500 times, and it's not going to bother me --the comparison and the matchup with Jason Kidd," Parker said Monday.

Parker does not even expect this matchup to be his toughest of the postseason. In his opinion, no point guard is more difficult to defend than Stephon Marbury, whose Suns defeated San Antonio twice in the opening round.

Kidd is not a natural scorer like Marbury, but he's a better passer, rebounder and all-around player.

Kidd is averaging 20.3, 8.4 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the postseason to Parker's 14.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists.

"They were the best team in the NBA, so everybody talks about Tim, and they should," Kidd said. "But Tony Parker is the key. When he plays well, they play well."

Indeed, the Spurs were 20-1 during the regular season and 4-0 in the first three rounds of the playoffs when getting 20 or more points from Parker, whose flashy speed and accurate mid-range jumper are his strongest skills.

Parker, born in Belgium and raised in France, is the son of an American father and a Dutch mother. His father, Tony Sr., played for Loyola, Ill., before moving overseas to play professionally in Europe.

Parker first saw his father's old Chester Highlands neighborhood on Chicago's South Side when he was 6.

"It was the ghetto, it was really poor. It helped me appreciate the good things in life," Parker said.

He made his first big splash in American basketball at the Nike Hoop Summit in Indianapolis in February 2000, scoring 20 points with seven assists and two steals against an American team that included Darius Miles, Zach Randolph and Omar Cook.

Parker said Georgia Tech, UCLA and Connecticut approached him to offer scholarships, but he instead turned professional and played in the French League.

That league includes plenty of veteran players, allowing Parker to become accustomed at an early age to older opponents. Much older.

The experience has given Parker an air of confidence and maturity.

He was selected 28th by San Antonio in the 2001 draft, a low number for such an impact player.

"It's because I was a European point guard, that's why. Nobody made it before. They thought the point guard position was for Americans," Parker said. "I'm 50-50; they forgot about my American part."

After hearing the Spurs had drafted a French point guard, Rose learned that Parker had his own Web site. A few clicks later, Rose took his first look.

"It was weird. It showed him dribbling around. It showed his weak French dunk. He barely got his fingers over the rim. Probably a 9-foot rim," Rose joked Monday.

The Spurs also have been ragging on Parker for his bout of vomiting after eating a bad batch of creme brulee the night before Game 6 of the Western Conference finals in Dallas.

But for all the teasing, the Spurs also give Parker plenty of respect.

Parker became a starter just 10 games into his rookie season and has held the job since, showing dramatic improvement along the way.

"Over the past five to 10 years -- and especially the last five years -- there are so many players from overseas that play the game as well or better than the American kids that it should be obvious to everybody, especially with our loss last summer in world championships, that there are not only good players but good teams, good coaches everywhere," Popovich said.