Spurs guard Tony Parker apologized Monday after he drew criticism for a photograph depicting him flashing the "quenelle" gesture, a French hand signal that is said to represent a reverse Nazi salute.
The five-time All-Star and longtime French basketball captain said in the statement that he was unaware of the gesture's anti-Semitic implications when he was photographed doing the "quenelle" alongside controversial French comedian Dieudonné M'bala M'bala, who has been prosecuted and convicted on multiple occasions for anti-Semitic remarks in France.
"While this gesture has been part of French culture for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of the very negative concerns associated with it," Parker said in the statement, which was released by the Spurs. "When l was photographed making that gesture three years ago, I thought it was part of a comedy act and did not know that it could be in any way offensive or harmful."
The "quenelle" is executed by holding one arm straight and bringing the hand of the other arm to that shoulder, as shown below. The Daily Mail reports that Dieudonné has portrayed the "quenelle" as an "anti-establishment gesture."
Earlier Monday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center included Parker on its "Top 10 Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Slurs List" and called on him to apologize for the photograph.
"The Simon Wiesenthal Center is urging NBA star Tony Parker to apologize for using the Nazi-like Quenelle introduced by anti-Semitic French comedian, Dieudonné," a statement from the international Jewish human rights organization read. "The salute has been denounced by French authorities and leaders of the French Jewish community. It is now widely used by neo-Nazis; far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen posed using it. Another prominent French sports figure, French soccer star, Nicolas Anelka, flashed the salute during a game in England in late December."
Parker distanced himself from the "quenelle" and said he hoped his experience could serve as a teachable moment.
"Since I have been made aware of the seriousness of this gesture, I will certainly never repeat the gesture and sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding or harm relating to my actions," he said in the statement. "Hopefully this incident will serve to educate others that we need to be more aware that things that may seem innocuous can actually have a history of hate and hurt."
Sky.com reports that Anelka, a West Bromwich Albion striker who flashed the "quenelle" during a game against West Ham on Sunday, will discontinue the goal celebration in light of the controversy.
"Nicolas said that he performed the gesture to dedicate his goal to a friend [Dieudonné] and vehemently denied having any intention to cause offense," West Bromwich Albion said in a statement.
The NBA has not yet issued a statement in response to the photograph or the controversy.