Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs take a time-out to discuss the globalization of the NBA and the breakdown of cultural barriers.
When the San Antonio Spurs tabbed Manu Ginobili with the 57th overall pick in the 1999 NBA draft, few even knew who he was, much less where he was from. Today, the Argentine, who left his pro league in Italy to join the Spurs in 2002, is regarded as one of the greatest draft steals in history and a catalyst for the NBA’s emerging population of star foreigners. ¶ Ginobili, along with French guard Tony Parker and U.S. Virgin Islands native Tim Duncan, make up the “big three” for a Spurs franchise that has tapped into talent pipelines worldwide over the past decade while en route to four league crowns. They took time between road games to chat with us.
Does the Spurs’ locker room sometimes feel like a global cross section, where cultural barriers are eliminated? Manu Ginobili: Yes, especially with this franchise. I remember that a few years ago, Rasho [Nesterovic] and I, we spoke Italian. There was Russian, Serbian, Tony speaking French -- we had a lot of languages going on, and it was funny at the beginning.
But there are still some teams that are a little reluctant to hire somebody who’s foreign. Some teams that don’t have many, but I guess there’s at least one [international player] on every team. But to get to 20 percent is something.
Would you like to see the NBA continue to spread into foreign venues as much as possible to scout, including in your native country? Tony Parker: I think it would be great for the image of the NBA and all the young people who want to see the foreign guys.
Why have the Spurs succeeded so well in incorporating foreign players?
Parker: It’s a very family-oriented atmosphere in the locker room and with the way they run stuff. I think the fact that it was a good team led them to take a chance on the European guys -- because they had the late, late picks in the first round -- and that’s how they got me [in 2001] and Manu.
They couldn’t take the best Americans because they’d go to the worst teams. So they took risks with us, and it paid off.
Has the growth in the number of foreign players season after season been noticeable?
Ginobili: I think the biggest change was, like, my third year, when other teams started really looking into it and taking big risks, even with the top five taken in the draft. That hadn’t been seen before.
Has the acceptance of foreign players changed anything as far as the way the league is advertised or the opportunities available for foreign players in advertisements?
Parker: Not really. Most of the stuff I do is in France. Yao [Ming] has stuff with Apple, and besides that, Steve Nash and I did something with Nike. But the big spots are still going to be done by all the big players, because of who they are as players and not where they’re from.
Is it a shock after having come in as one of the few foreigners to now be playing against and with friends and national teammates? Ginobili: True, it is. But now it’s getting more common. The biggest shock was my third year, when I started seeing them coming in. Now I’m kind of used to it. It’s nice.
Photography: Nathan Schroder
Styling: Tammy Theis/Independent Artists Agency
Styling Assistant: Brittany Winter/Independent Artists Agency
Grooming: Al Tidwell/Kim Dawson Agency
Location: Hotel Crescent Court, Dallas, Texas
Spring break: Hit a slam dunk this season with slim silhouettes and shades of gray and purple. Add a touch of whimsy, and you’ll rule the court. Tony Parker (left) wears a Prada gray wool suit, $2,245; cotton shirt, $420; and silk hearts-print tie, $195. Manu Ginobili wears an Etro wool plaid jacket, $1,350; lavender cotton shirt, $300; and silk tie, $150; as well as Incotex gray wool pants, $575. All are available at Barneys New York, www.barneys.com.