Tony Parker says injury changed him
LONDON -- Tony Parker stared into the darkness while confined to his hotel room following a freak eye injury that nearly ended his career.
As hours turned to days, the San Antonio star guard's thoughts raced back to a night of partying in a New York club that turned fateful. Parker was a bystander trapped in the middle of a bottle-throwing melee, and a shard of glass almost cost him everything.
"Life can change pretty fast," he said.
Parker was lucky, and he knows it. Despite not being able to practice until recently, he's here at the Olympics, leading a French team that's at less than full strength and will open the tournament Sunday against a U.S. squad overloaded with superstars and expected to leave London carrying gold.
The accident has altered him, made him cautious -- but unafraid.
"It's so funny, because I just had my best year in the NBA and in one night it can change," said Parker, who will wear goggles during the Olympics. "It just puts life in perspective and you think, 'OK, next time I have to be careful,' but at the same time you can't stop living because then you don't even cross the street.
"You don't want to dramatize too much, but it still puts it all in perspective."
On Thursday night, a relaxed Parker sat on a sofa with his back to the Thames and briefly discussed the events leading up to what will likely be the 30-year-old's only Olympic appearance as a player. He did not reveal any details of the incident at Greenhouse, the trendy club which has been closed since R&B singer Chris Brown and members of rapper Drake's entourage fought.
Parker got caught in the crossfire during the brawl and wound up with a piece of glass embedded in his cornea. Doctors later told him that he came within "two millimeters away of losing my eye."
There are no visible traces of trauma in Parker's eye. If there are any scars, they're hidden.
"It scared me a lot," he said. "It was like a crazy situation, you can't believe it's happening. It was almost like you were in a movie."
He was banned from flying and ordered to avoid any light. So he stayed his hotel room for eight days before traveling to San Antonio. The time alone allowed him to reflect on things, and it was also a period when Parker's friends and teammates worried about his future.
"I was beyond scared because it goes beyond basketball," said French forward Ronny Turiaf. "Tony and I have been friends for the last 15 or 16 years. We've shared so many moments and have been there for each other as much as possible throughout our careers, and when you hear about one of your friends going down with a freak injury like that you panic.
"The one thing I know about Tony is that he never gets down or gets defeated. I knew he was going to pull through."
Turiaf hasn't noticed any dramatic change in his close friend.
"I haven't seen anything different," he said. "Actually, I lied, he plays with goggles now."
Respect for Parker runs deep and outside the edges of France's roster. Chris Paul, who said Parker is one of his closest friends and has one Parker's old French jerseys hanging in his house, said he called Parker after the incident happened.
"I was worried about him," Paul said. "I talked to him when he went to the doctor. I was just happy, he was definitely happier than I was, but I was happy to hear he was OK."
LeBron James also was concerned about Parker's well-being.
"You never want to see a freak accident take anyone's livelihood away," James said Friday. "I'm happy that it wasn't severe and he's still able to play. It was definitely a scary thing, not only for him but for a lot of people."
Following doctors' orders, Parker didn't practice for several weeks and only recently rejoined the French team, which is already missing center Joakim Noah because of an injured left ankle. Parker said a combination of this year's condensed season and the surgery haven't allowed his body to bounce back.
"I just started training like 10 days ago so I'm not 100 percent," he said. "I'm not even close to being in shape. We had a terrible preparation but we're going to try and do the best we can."
Parker knows France's chances of shocking the Americans are long, not impossible. He intends to play with the same speed and intensity as always.
That's one thing that will never change about him.
"I want to get a medal," he said. "Even if all the odds are against us, anything can happen in one game."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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