VILNIUS, LITHUANIA - SEPTEMBER 07: Tony Parker of France runs with the ball during the EuroBasket 2011 second round group A match between Turkey and France at Siemens Arena on September 7, 2011 in Vilnius, Lithuania. (Photo by Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)
This will be Tony Parker's first Olympic experience with France. It might also be his last. Can he capitalize and lead France to a medal?
France has one Olympic basketball medal in the past 60 years, and Tony Parker had nothing to do with it. Parker, arguably the greatest French basketball player in history, was just 18 when Les Bleus shockingly won silver at the 2000 Games in Sydney. Parker was preparing for an NBA career -- he'd be drafted late in the first round in 2001 -- and playing for France's youth teams. Led by European and domestic league veterans, France romped through the Olympic tournament before falling to Team USA in the title game. It had been France's best Olympic performance since 1948.
Parker, who quickly ascended in the NBA, took over for the next Olympic cycle, but France failed to even qualify for the 2004 or 2008 Games. Injuries ravaged the team at precisely the wrong times, leading to suboptimal performances at qualifying tournaments. But France played strongly enough at times to make the team a real concern at the top levels. That all came to a head at EuroBasket 2011, where France made it all the way to the finals before succumbing to Spain.
That's how France enters these Olympics, Parker's first: Europe's second best team. Four of the 12 total teams in the tournament are from Europe, and few would take Lithuania or Russia over France. Frankly, it's unlikely that many will think more highly of the South American challengers, Argentina and Brazil, than France. And much of that is due to Parker, the best non-American point guard in the tournament by no small margin.
(The funny thing about that: even though Parker, a one-time NBA Finals MVP for goodness sake, is the best non-American point guard in the tournament by no small margin, I'm fairly certain he'd be No. 4 on the Team USA depth chart were he American. He could be as high as No. 2 depending on how you value aggressiveness -- as in Russell Westbrook -- and savvy -- as in Parker -- as compared to Deron Williams. But still. Team USA is too stacked.)
France also happens to have good size and wing options. Despite Joakim Noah's injury, France can trot out an NBA frontcourt with Ronny Turiaf and Boris Diaw, with Kevin Seraphin coming off the bench. The team's second best player is Nicolas Batum; his play at the international level is like his NBA play cranked up to 11. All five French starters have NBA experience. Spain is the only other team outside of the United States that can say that. That doesn't necessarily matter once the tournament begins, but it shows you the talent level of the nation.
This may be the first and final Olympiad of Parker's career. He'll be 34 in 2016 with a huge number of miles on his treads. Given France's history of struggling to qualify for the Olympics, it isn't out of the realm of possibilities that France could miss Rio. As such, if France's greatest player ever wants one taste of Olympic success, it may have to come over the next two weeks. We'll see how serious the urgency of the French and Parker himself are once the tournament begins.
Here's the rundown on France.
FIBA World Ranking: No. 12
Previous Olympic experience: Silver in 2000, didn't qualify for 2004 or 2008
How they got here: Finished second at EuroBasket 2011 for an automatic bid
Most important group games: vs. Team USA (July 29), vs. Argentina (July 31) [brutal start]
Players you've heard of: Parker, Turiaf, Diaw, Batum, Mickael Gelabale, Seraphin.
Medal hopes: Strong
Future outlook: Decent to good, thanks to Batum, Noah and Nando de Colo