Gregg Popovich once deemed Tony Parker too soft to draft

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When naming the NBA’s toughest players, Tony Parker probably doesn’t crack the list. But when naming players with question marks about their toughness, Parker certainly doesn’t make that list, either.

For player as skilled as Parker, that’s a big deal. He doesn’t have to be Charles Oakley to succeed. He just must be tough enough to allow his talent to shine, and he’s obviously done that.

But it wasn’t always clear he could. Billy Witz of The New York Times:

When Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, first set eyes on Tony Parker, at a predraft camp in Chicago in 2001, he did not need long to reach an assessment.

Parker, then a 19-year-old from France, had generated some buzz with a strong performance against a team of American high school all-stars. He intrigued the Spurs, who had the last pick of the first round. But Popovich’s appraisal after the workout was typically blunt: Parker was too soft.

When R. C. Buford, then the assistant general manager, got more looks at Parker, who had just arrived off a plane from Paris for that initial workout, he persuaded Popovich to take another look. So the Spurs set up a workout in San Antonio. Popovich brought in three players he described with a chuckle as thugs and stationed them for 45 minutes with Parker on the low block. The workout had little to do with playing point guard, scoring guard or basketball, really.

“They just wanted to see what I was made of,” Parker said. “I didn’t even realize it was for that. I was just trying to do my best. I was happy to do a workout for an N.B.A. team.”

This story shows one reason the Spurs have been so successful. Their coach and general manager spoke about their disagreement, and Popovich remained open-minded. Certainly, other coaches might not have been willing to give Parker a true second look.

Popovich and the Spurs are certainly glad he did, though.