(photo credit: AP)
Tony Parker missed his chance to play for his country this summer. Now the San Antonio guard is getting the next best thing: a chance to play in his homeland.
Parker and the rest of the Spurs are in France, one of four NBA teams spending a portion of its preseason overseas as part of the NBA Europe Live tour.
So while most teams opened training camps Tuesday, the Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers and Phoenix Suns joined the Spurs in getting an earlier start - even if they had to travel far from home to do it.
A broken finger forced Parker out of the FIBA World Championship in August, but he said he wouldn't miss the chance to play in front of the home fans in two cities.
"You don't have a lot of opportunity to play with your NBA team in your own country," Parker said last week.
"It's great, I'm very happy to play over there."
The 76ers are in Barcelona, the Clippers in Moscow and the Suns in Treviso, Italy, and Rome.
Philadelphia and Phoenix will later head to Cologne, Germany, for the highlight of the trip: a two-day tournament that also includes CSKA Moscow and Maccabi Tel Aviv, the top two finishers in the Euroleague last year.
The NBA is heavily pushing the event, calling it its "most ambitious international initiative," with a number of marketing and promotional activities planned.
There also should be some good basketball. CSKA Moscow, one of the Clippers' opponents, includes Euroleague Final Four MVP Theodoros Papaloukas, who starred in Greece's victory over the United States in the semifinals of the world championship.
"It's a PR trip; it has become a really global game," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "It'll be something like 13 time zones, so it's going to be a challenge.
"We'll be jet-lagged and we're going to be playing two pretty tough teams. But we'll accomplish what we want to accomplish, and the guys will get a little culture as well."
The games begin Thursday, when Philadelphia plays FC Barcelona, and San Antonio faces Asvel Villeurbanne in Lyon. On Friday, the Clippers meet BC Khimki and the Suns play Roma.
The trip to Italy sends Phoenix coach Mike D'Antoni back to the country where he was twice coach of the year while leading Benetton Treviso.
"The exciting part is that the game in Rome will be sold out - 15,000 people, playing against Rome, there will be some passion there," D'Antoni said.
"I think instead of an intersquad game that we would have in Tucson, you're playing where our juices will get flowing. To me, this is even better."
D'Antoni said during the world championship that he was not concerned with the Suns' extended preseason, even though many of his players have already had long summers. Two-time MVP Steve Nash went to South Africa for one of the Basketball without Borders camps, and Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa all spent at least some time playing with their national teams.
Marion, like Stoudemire recovering from a knee injury, doesn't sound worried, either. "No, because it's preseason," he said. "When we come back, we've still got three weeks before the first game."
The Spurs play Maccabi Tel Aviv - who beat the Toronto Raptors in an exhibition game last year - on Sunday in Paris.
The trips conclude next week with the Suns facing the 76ers, and the two Euroleague powers meeting. The winners and losers will play the next night.