Deep in the Heart of Texas

Six years ago TONY PARKER came to the U.S. in search of NBA glory. He never expected that he'd become an All-Star in San Antonio so quickly--or that he'd get on one knee for a TV starlet from Corpus Christi, EVA LONGORIA
March 18, 2007

It's all-starweekend in Las Vegas, and the NBA's most glamorous couple has just arrived onthe red carpet outside of Pure nightclub. The mere sight of Tony Parker and EvaLongoria sets off a mini-stampede among the assembled fans, photographers andovercoiffed TV talent. The club is giving Parker and Longoria big bucks to hosta party, and running this publicity gantlet is the price they have to pay.Longoria, effortlessly working the crowd, looks dazzling in a revealingwraparound white top, short shorts and gold high heels that match her bling;Parker wears a beige suit and a faraway look in his eyes. Sensing hisdiscomfort, Longoria takes charge as if she were the All-Star point guard."We're over here," she whispers, turning Parker toward a bank ofphotographers.

"Now we'reover here," she says, guiding him farther down the red carpet.

"And we'regoing to do one more over here," she says, spinning him toward anothercluster of cameras. Finally, she gently removes Parker's hand from hers andsteps away to be photographed without him. There is a reason she got topbilling on the party fliers: Longoria is a TV starlet, tabloid siren andfashion trendsetter; her fiancé is merely in town for his second straightAll-Star Game.

Taking in thespectacle, Parker offers a wary half-smile. "This is Eva's world," hesays, "not mine."

Soon they areherded inside, to a VIP section overlooking the dance floor. Thousands ofcommoners have paid $20 or $30 a head to attend; spotting Parker and Longoria,a sweaty mass of camera-wielding clubbers surges against the glass wall thatseparates them from their hosts. As the night goes on, the celebrity wattageincreases, with Cameron Diaz, Nicky Hilton and Dennis Rodman among the boldfacenames stopping by. Sequestered in the VIP area, Parker finally exhales, rappingalong with the thumping hip-hop and ordering bottle after bottle of Cristal forhis guests. He and Longoria exit the club at 3 a.m. and then spend another hourgambling. When they call it a night, the All-Star tip-off is 13 hours away.

Arriving at thearena the following afternoon, Longoria relays her pregame pep talk. "Itold Tony to take some aspirin, because it was a long night of partying,"she purrs. "He might be a little sluggish out there. He might be a littletired."

This is TonyParker's world: a low-slung, windowless building sheathed in aluminum on theoutskirts of San Antonio, set amid medical clinics, churches and mini-malls.This is the Spurs' practice facility, a structure befitting the franchise ofno-nonsense superstar Tim Duncan and buttoned-down coach Greg Popovich. On ateam that prizes the puritan work ethic, Parker is usually the last player toleave the practice court, thanks to his daily ritual of extra shooting drills.Today is no exception. It is a couple of weeks after the All-Star Game, whichmeans Parker is back to business. Long after his teammates have left the gym,he's stroking free throws, changing baskets to force himself to adjust todifferent backdrops.

As Parker finallyleaves the court to head to the weight room, Popovich talks about how the24-year-old balances the sobering responsibilities of running the Spurs and hisglitzy life with Longoria. "Tony Parker is one of the most mature youngpeople I've ever been around," says Popovich. "He's never been late toa practice, he's never missed a shootaround. His dedication to this team istotal."

Well, total mightbe a bit strong. Two nights earlier, in a 107--91 home win over the TorontoRaptors, Parker had game highs of 27 points and nine assists, guiding the Spursto their sixth victory in what at week's end was a season-high 12-game winningstreak. (San Antonio's 45--18 record was third best in the league.) Minutesafter stepping off the court he beelined for a local airstrip, where a privatejet awaited. He is coy about his ultimate destination--"Wouldn't you liketo know?" he says with a twinkle--but when Parker returned to San Antonio24 hours later, Longoria was in town, too.

This kind ofjet-setting is perhaps not ideal for the stretch drive, but Parker has someexperience working around Longoria's schedule while she's in Los Angelesshooting Desperate Housewives, the hit show that has made her a household name.On Jan. 28 he scored seven of his team-high 19 points in overtime to help beatthe Lakers 96--94 in L.A. After the game he proceeded directly from StaplesCenter to the Shrine Auditorium to escort Longoria to the Screen Actors GuildAwards. In the next day's USA Today, Parker's on-court heroics earned all ofone sentence in the sports section. The life section featured a huge colorpicture of him and Longoria on the red carpet, Parker's sharp gray pinstripesuit matching the color of her flowing Vera Wang gown.

Such treatmentconfirms his journey from an unknown Belgian-born, Paris-raised ballplayer toan international celebrity who to certain demographics--say, housewives whosubscribe to US Weekly--is probably the most famous face in the NBA. "Oh,he's so Hollywood now," says Duncan. "That's what we call him:Hollywood. We kill him all the time."

Parker takes theabuse in stride. "We're a family," he says, "and I know the guyswant me to be happy, no matter what they say." Indeed, backup point guardJacque Vaughn says, "I'm married with two kids, and that's the norm in thislocker room. So maybe we live through Tony a little, with all the fun he'shaving out on the town."

A recent eveningwould have been an especially felicitous time to be Tony, as Eva was cuddled upnext to him in a dimly lit San Antonio restaurant. In faded jeans, a baggysweatshirt, Uggs boots and no makeup, Longoria, 31, projects a personacompletely different from the glamorous vision in Vegas. Of course, she stilllooks hot. (Her hotness has actually been quantified by the helpful staffers atMaxim, who for two years running placed Longoria No. 1 on their list of theworld's 100 hottest women.) Since they began dating 2 1/2 years ago, Parker andLongoria have never lived in the same city, and all the long-distance pininghas had the predictable effect: They can't keep their hands off each other.

Theirs is aclassic case of opposites attracting. The 6'2" Parker is soft-spoken andreflective; the 5'3" Longoria is outgoing and brassy, her laugh afull-blown honk. They have a few key interests in common; for example, both areepicureans and oenophiles. Tonight's dinner is preceded by a lengthy, animateddiscussion with various restaurant staffers about the wine list. "Twoglasses a night," Parker counsels. "It's good for the heart."

Longoria stolehis in November 2004 during a chance meeting in the Spurs' locker room. SaysParker, "She came to our game for one reason: to meet me."

"Tony, gimmea break," Longoria objects, rolling her eyes. "Growing up in CorpusChristi"--150 miles southeast of San Antonio--"my dad was always a bigSpurs fan, so I took him to a game for fun. We were in the stands, and a teamofficial asked if I wanted to meet the players after the game. I had nointerest but my dad wanted to, so we went down to the locker room."

"Someoneasked if I would meet Eva Longoria," says Parker. "I said, 'Who?' Ididn't know who she was. I wasn't a TV guy."

"As a fan Iknew who Tony was, but I didn't really know much about him," Longoria says."That night I read in the program that he was French. I had just gottenback from Paris, so when we were introduced, I made a little small talk inFrench."

"That got myattention," he says. "I also thought she was very cute, of course. Wetalked in the locker room for a few minutes, and she said she was going to aparty in town later that night, so I asked if she wanted to go to dinnerbeforehand. I said her dad could come, too, but I didn't mean it. Anyway, hedidn't come, and Eva and I talked all night long."

"Then he wenton the road for a week," she says. "When he came back to town, we hadour first real date: breakfast at IHOP. It was so romantic."

The two refuse tolet their hectic work schedules undermine their relationship. "We never gomore than two weeks without seeing each other during the season, no matterwhat," he says. Housewives shoots 10 months a year but not necessarily fivedays a week, allowing Longoria opportunities to rendezvous with Parker in SanAntonio or on Spurs roadtrips. Popovich encourages significant others to travelwith the team, and Longoria mixes well, even though she gets more face time onTNT than Charles Barkley. "She's been welcomed into our family just likeanyone else," says San Antonio guard Brent Barry. "She's verysupportive of the whole team, and everybody here is really fond ofher."

With Parker'sintractable NBA commitment, "I'm always on his schedule," Longoriasays. "Last year I didn't take a movie during the summer because I wantedto spend every minute I could with him." In July, when Parker wassequestered in Divonne-les-Bains, France, preparing for the world championshipswith the French national team, Longoria flew in from L.A. for a visit thatlasted less than 24 hours. "He had a day off, and I missed him," shesays. "We had dinner, and I left the next day."

"Yes, but itwas worth it, no?" Parker says suggestively, suddenly sounding a bit likePepé Le Pew.

Parker planned topop the question in Paris last October, when the Spurs opened training campthere. But just before the team left Texas, rumors flew that the couple hadsplit. Longoria's publicist issued a statement on Sept. 29 saying that theywere going through "a very difficult time," but it did not directlyaddress the rumors. In the end Longoria made the trip to Paris, and though thecouple renewed their commitment to each other, Parker did not propose.

A month later hesneaked off to L.A. following a game in Utah. When Longoria returned home aftera long day on the set, her place was littered with rose petals and alightedwith candles. Parker did the whole one-knee thing, the exclamation point beinga five-carat engagement ring. Now the wedding plans are in high gear, with thesuperstitious Parker having picked 7/7/07 as the date. The ceremony, which willbe held in a castle outside of Paris, is the subject of breathless reports inglossy magazines, and Longoria allows that "there is tremendous pressure tofind the most gorgeous dress of the century." But Parker is sanguine amidthe mounting frenzy. "She does everything," he says. "I am incharge of the food and the music, and that's it."

On top of weddingpreparations they are also building a house together in San Antonio. Parker hadalready started planning his dream bachelor pad before he met Longoria, andnow, he says, "we're having a blast collaborating on the design."Framing has already begun on their private playground, a 23-acre spread thatwill have an indoor basketball court, beach-volleyball and tennis courts, and amini water park around a large pool. A special room has been set aside fortheir puppies--a bulldog and two St. Bernards (one of whom is named Booba, thesame handle as Parker's favorite French rapper).

About the onlygoody the house is missing is a recording studio to nurse Parker's musicalambitions. In 2006 he released the single Top of the Game, one of the moreunusual entries in the hip-hop pantheon. On the track respected Brooklyn rapperFabolous rhymes about Saint-Tropez and French kisses, while Parker flowsexclusively in French. At last year's All-Star Game, in Houston, Parker andFabolous performed the song at a club, the displaced Frenchman displaying animpressive command of b-boy mannerisms. (Grainy evidence of the gig isavailable on YouTube.) Later this month Parker's debut album, Balance-Toi(Bounce), will be released in France. The title cut, a club banger with apropulsive beat and a racy video featuring tarted-up cheerleaders and Longoriain a cameo, has reached No. 2 on France's new-music charts. (Snippets areavailable at tpmusic.skyblog.com.) "This is for real," Parker says ofhis burgeoning rap career. "I'm already working on my secondalbum."

Boris Diaw, theFrench forward of the Phoenix Suns, confirms that his boyhood friend's interestis genuine. "This has nothing to do with trying to keep up with Eva,"Diaw says. "Tony has talked about doing an album as long as I've knownhim." But then, it's easy to attribute any change in Parker toLongoria--much to the fear of Spurs supporters. In the way that hockey fans inEdmonton still blame Janet Jones's acting ambitions for the trade that sentWayne Gretzky to Hollywood, San Antonians fear that Longoria will whisk Parkerout of town. In fact, Longoria loves the paparazzi-free serenity of SanAntonio, and almost all of her family has moved to the area in recentyears.

It is Parker whofrets about the future. Both he and Longoria are committed to their currentemployers through 2011, he on a six-year, $66 million extension signed in '04,she on a seven-year contract from '04 that currently pays her in the low sixfigures per episode. "We need to live full time in the same city," saysParker, "so naturally my decision [about where to sign when his contractexpires] is going to be affected by Eva and her career."

Ever mindful ofthe power of headlines, Longoria leans in and whispers, "Are you sure youwant to say that? You don't want Pop to get mad."

Parker has reasonnot to antagonize his curmudgeonly coach, because in his sixth season he hasfinally earned Popovich's trust. Though Parker became a starter just five gamesinto his rookie year, during the 2003 playoffs talk was rampant that the Spurswere going to replace him with free agent Jason Kidd. (The pining for Kiddstopped long ago.) "He's becoming a coach on the floor," Popovich nowsays of Parker. "There are times when I stand up to make a call and heshakes me off. When that happens, I just turn around and go back to the bench.I want him to have that kind of confidence."

Last season wascrucial to Parker's development. At the start of the year he began working witha shooting coach to refine his mechanics, and combining a more consistentjumper with his fearless slashes to the basket and teardrop finishes made himalmost impossible to stop. With Duncan and ace swingman Manu Ginóbili slowedmost of the season by injuries, Parker led the Spurs to a franchise-record 63victories, averaging a career-high 18.9 points and 5.8 assists while shooting54.8% from the field, a ludicrous number for a guard.

San Antoniosuccumbed to the Dallas Mavericks in a bruising seven-game series in theconference semifinals, but with Duncan and Ginóbili back to full strength thisseason, the Spurs are looking like the balanced, defense-minded powerhouse thatwon championships in 2003 and '05. Though he has been slowed recently by astrained hip flexor and chronic tendinitis in his right knee, Parker was stillringing up 18.4 points (on 51.9% shooting) and 5.5 assists per game at week'send, making him the only player beside the reigning two-time MVP, Steve Nash ofPhoenix, to average at least 15 and five while hitting better than 50%.

Says Nash, "Irespect how he's been able to adapt his role so seamlessly. Last year he wastheir first option, and a lot of nights he carried that team. This year he'sstill just as dangerous, but he does a great job getting his [points] in theframework of what the team is trying to do."

As Parker looksahead to the summer, he can't help but think that a third championship ringwould go nicely with a wedding band. Throw in a hit record and a dream house,and life couldn't be sweeter. "I have ups and downs, like anybodyelse," Parker says. "There are times when I'm arguing with Eva, and inbasketball Pop is on my case. But I never complain, because I know I'm very,very blessed."

Just tounderscore the point, Eva leans in and plants a juicy kiss on him.

EXTRA
Showdown
Who's better at breaking down a defense: Tony Parker or Spurs teammate ManuGinóbili? Read Jack McCallum's answer. ONLY AT SI.COM

"Eva's been welcomed into our family just likeanyone else," says Barry. "She's very SUPPORTIVE OF THE WHOLE TEAM, andeverybody is really fond of her."

"Tony is becoming a COACH ON THE FLOOR," saysPopovich. "When he shakes me off, I just turn around and go back to thebench."

Locals fear that because of Longoria, Parker will windup in L.A. (à la Janet Jones and Wayne Gretzky). In fact, Longoria loves thePAPARAZZI-FREE SERENITY in Texas.

"There are times when I'm arguing with Eva, and inbasketball Pop is on my case," says Parker. "But I never complain,because I know I'm VERY, VERY BLESSED."

PHOTOPhotographs by Reed Saxon/AP (Parker and Longoria) PHOTOGreg Nelson PHOTOGREG NELSONNOTQUIET ON THE SET
Longoria supports Parker courtside between Desperate Housewivesshoots.
PHOTOETHAN MILLER/GETTY IMAGES (INSET)[See CaptionAbove.] PHOTOAL TIELEMANSMIDDLEMANAGER
Duncan (21) and the other Spurs may razz Parker for his fame, but he's allbusiness on the floor.
PHOTOMARIO ANZUONI/REUTERSBONAMIS Parker has recorded a track with Jamie Foxx, who cast Longoria in one ofhis music videos. PHOTOGREG NELSON (INSET)[See Caption Above.] PHOTOMARTIN BUREAU/AFP/GETTY IMAGESMASSAPPEAL
The couple will face even more scrutiny before their wedding at a Frenchcastle.
PHOTOBRANIMIR KVARTUC/AP (INSET)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)