- Spurs' guard Tony Parker is diving into the shady world of NCAA recruiting with his movie Amateur slated to release soon on Netflix. The 17-year NBA veteran spoke with the Crossover about the film, his relationship with Coach Pop and how long he wants to continue playing.
Spurs guard Tony Parker is excited to bring you a basketball movie, even if he won’t be dunking over aliens or playing his dad in one-on-one. Instead, Parker is a producer on the film Amateur, a coming-soon-to-Netflix feature that tells the story of a 14 year old navigating the shady world of NCAA recruiting. The timing of the movie’s release couldn’t be more fortuitous, as calls for reform have grown louder amid an FBI investigation into numerous high-profile programs.
Ryan Koo, Amateur’s director, grew up in basketball-crazy Durham, N.C., and has always been fascinated by the attention on elite recruits.
“I looked at those guys and wondered what it would be like to have so much pressure on you at such a young age,” Koo told SI. “The internet has really changed youth and high school basketball. The pressures are escalating and the age at which these players are being ranked and discovered is much earlier. And that to me was a movie.”
Parker’s production company, Argent Pictures—which counts former Spurs guard Michael Finley and Saints quarterback Drew Brees as partners—consulted with Koo on his script to ensure an accurate portrayal of the seedy underground of NCAA recruiting.
“We wanted to make sure in portraying this world we got it right,” Koo said. “I wanted to make sure what I was saying was true to the world, and I was portraying things authentically and not in a sports-movie cliché way.”
Amateur hits Netflix on April 6. Earlier this month, SI caught up with Parker to discuss his work on the movie, the Spurs’ season, and more... before he set the world on fire with his quote on Kawhi Leonard's leg injury.
Rohan Nadkarni: What made you want to be involved with Amateur?
Tony Parker: When we started the project, I didn’t know it was going to be a subject LeBron was talking about, and Carmelo and all that. I just always thought it was unfair for college guys. I always thought the system of the NCAA was not fair with all those millions and millions of dollars, and the athletes get nothing. I don’t know why they wouldn’t get paid. Me, coming from Europe, I started my professional career when I was 16, and I was making money. I already had a contract. If you look at tennis, gymnastics, or snowboard, all those sports, you start very young and you make money. I thought if I could help and at least improve the system, maybe the movie can help.
RN: After the Nike Hoops Summit in 2000, were you getting offers to play in college?
TP: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I had offers. But for me, I thought it was better for me to stay in Europe. I was playing against older guys, it was a better experience for me to get ready for the NBA. Because I knew I wanted to go to the NBA as soon as they called me.
RN: Did anyone try to offer you something crazy?
TP: I can’t talk about that. [Laughs]
RN: How did you get involved in the movie business?
TP: I always prepared myself for after my career. It’s always in my mind because you never know how long a professional career will last with injuries and stuff like that. I’ve been blessed to play 17 seasons with one of the best franchises ever. So even then, I always prepare myself. In 2009, I invested in a basketball team in France. In 2014, I bought the majority. Last year, I bought the girls’ team. Now I’m building my academy, which is going to be a school in France for all international kids to study and benefit from all that. I’ve always invested and prepared for after basketball. And then movies and TV came into that too, because that’s what I love the most.
RN: As you prepare yourself for after your basketball career, is retirement something you’re thinking about?
TP: In my mind, I want to play three more seasons. I would love if the Spurs keep me. I would love to play 20 seasons with the Spurs, that’s my dream. I’m a free agent this summer, so I would love to sign three more seasons with the Spurs, and then after that go on with all my different businesses.
RN: A lot of fans kind of take the Spurs’ success for granted. What’s this season been like fighting for a playoff spot?
TP: The postseason is starting a little bit earlier. [Laughs] We’re in playoff mode right now. But if you think about it, in 16 seasons, I’ve been in eight conference finals, five NBA Finals, made the playoffs every year. To a certain extent, yeah you take it for granted, but it’s still very hard to qualify for the playoffs. Every year everybody wants to beat us. This year is a great example, with all the injuries we’ve been having, that it’s not easy to make the playoffs that often. Right now we’re fighting. We still believe we’re going to make the playoffs, but it’s unusual. It’s been a different season this year.
RN: Is this almost more exciting in a way?
TP: No, not really. [Laughs] I’d rather be in the top three.
RN: So I want to ask, and I’m sorry to bring this up, but I think you hit one of the best shots of all-time in the Finals that no one talks about anymore.
TP: Oh, Game 1, Miami?
RN: Not even Game 1. It was Game 6—
TP: The stepback.
RN: The stepback over LeBron. What do you remember about that play?
TP: I thought we were going to win the championship. LeBron switched on me, I hit the stepback three. And then right after that I get a steal off LeBron. He tried to make a pass, I get the steal, and I go up and I score again. In my head, they take a timeout, I think we’re going to win the championship. We’re up 5 with 28 seconds. I just made a big steal and a big three. In my head we’re going to win the championship. It was a tough one. Like you said, it could have been the biggest shot of the series, the biggest shot of my career if we win.
RN: They showed you a lot of respect by switching LeBron onto a lot during that series.
TP: For me it was the ultimate respect. That year it was kind of my team. I made the All-Star, the All-NBA, all that stuff. It was basically my team that year. It was the ultimate respect for them to stop the Spurs, they had to put LeBron on me.
RN: How has your relationship with Pop evolved over the years? I know he was famously very tough on you early in your career.
TP: Well now it’s like we don’t have to say that much. He just gives me a look and I know what he wants. It’s evolved over the years. Now that I’m a vet he doesn’t have to say that much to me. Now it’s more about helping our young guys. We want to get our new point guards ready for the next 10, 15 years. That’s the Spurs franchise. It started with David and Timmy, myself, Manu, Kawhi, we just have to prepare for the future. Because Manu and I are not going to play forever.
RN: What’s the angriest he’s ever been at you?
TP: I don’t know if I can say one thing. My first three years I could never make him happy. It was just constant, constant, constant almost like abuse. At the end of the day I look at it like, he wants to win and I want to win, so we’re always going to agree on that.
RN: One last thing—you came out with a hip hop album a few years ago. What’s going on with your music career?
TP: Right now I’m retired. [Laughs] It was a fun moment in my life, but it’s tough to do both. I was in my prime in basketball, and I couldn’t do both. I was playing for the Spurs, in the summer playing for the national team, and then go on tour and do concerts, it wasn’t compatible.