By John Denton
Aug. 10, 2017
ORLANDO – To understand how just much Anthony Parker enjoys a challenge you must first comprehend how his basketball talent was often overshadowed even within his own family and how he had to chase his hoop dreams all the way to Europe to make them a reality.
Parker, 42, is the older brother of collegiate legend and WNBA superstar Candace Parker, who at 31 years old is still easily the most accomplished and decorated member of the family that hailed from Naperville, Illinois. Also, his father (Larry) played college basketball at Iowa and his younger brother (Marcus) went on to become a doctor.
Anthony managed to make it to the NBA out of tiny Bradley University as a dead-eye 3-point shooter, but his path ran into a roadblock when he was suddenly bounced out of the league some 17 years ago and forced to head to Israel to continue playing professionally. This was about the time, mind you, that Candace was dunking in a high school game for the first time – as a 6-foot-4, 15-year-old sophomore.
How Parker responded to the challenge of being out of the NBA – becoming an unquestioned star in Europe for six years and later a steady NBA contributor for another six seasons – says a lot about the character and resolve of a man who is about to face his next basketball hurdle: Being a first-time GM of the Lakeland Magic of the NBA G League. Sure, it’s a job he’s never done before, but he welcomes the challenge ahead of building a successful franchise.
“We (Parkers) have always sought out a challenge,’’ Parker said on Wednesday at his introductory news conference in Lakeland. “It’s not about doing what you’re good at; it’s about trying to grow and get better at things where you’re not sure how they are going to work out. That’s what my parents tried to instill in us – not trying not to make mistakes, but learning from them. I’m sure I’ll make plenty of mistakes in this process, but I’m eager to learn from them.’’
It was that eager and humble mentality that made Parker a perfect fit for the job of putting together the roster for the Orlando Magic’s G League affiliate in Lakeland. A college and international scout the past five seasons with the Magic, Parker made quite an impression on President of basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and quickly became the obvious candidate to fill the G League GM position despite his relative lack of team-building experience.
“I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Anthony while working through the draft and other parts of assembling the organization and he’s a very talented guy,’’ said Weltman, who took over in Orlando in late May. “He’s played in the league and he represents us the way we want to be represented. He has tremendous potential for growth and I think this is a great jump for him to take the lead on this and learn about what goes into putting a team together.’’
Parker will work with Stan Heath, who was named Lakeland’s inaugural head coach on Tuesday. The two have known each other for years from their time living in Tampa and Heath feels Parker has one of the highest basketball IQs of any former player he’s ever been around in nearly three decades of coaching.
“I’ve always had a lot of respect for Anthony and I admired him as a terrific player,’’ said Heath, previously a successful college head coach at USF, Arkansas and Kent State. “He’s got a basketball mind and I see it when it comes to evaluating players and talking strategy. He’s been through it … and I respect the fact that he’s been there and done it. He can be a sounding board for guys and someone the players can look up to in terms of knowing what it takes to get there (to the NBA).’’
Does Parker ever know what it takes to get to the NBA? A first-round pick of the 1997 NBA Draft, Parker was traded by the New Jersey Nets before he ever played a game. Over the next three years, he battled various injuries and appeared in just 55 games with the 76ers and Magic before being cut and shockingly out of the NBA.
Following a short stint in the now-defunct Continental Basketball League, Parker finally found his footing as a player – in, of all places, Israel. The initial thought was that he would play there for one season, thrive and head back to the NBA. Despite being scared at times by the constant bombs around Tel Aviv, Parker and wife, Tamy, eventually fell in love with living in Israel. He morphed into a star while playing for powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv, leading it to the EuroLeague Final Four in his first season there and EuroLeague titles in 2004 and ’05 – years when he was also voted EuroLeague Final Four MVP.
In addition to being a European basketball star for six seasons, Parker made quite an impression on those in the NBA when he drilled the game-winning shot for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final second of a 105-103 defeat of the Toronto Raptors in a 2005 preseason game. That played something of a role in his triumphant return to the NBA when he was signed by the Raptors in 2006.
Parker’s play and his calming, veteran influence that first season in Toronto – he ranked fourth in the NBA in 3-point shooting accuracy – helped the Raptors reach the playoffs for the first time in their five-year existence. He did it all while wearing No. 18 – a number that came to mean something special to him while playing in Israel and it shed some light on how Parker often takes a holistic approach to mixing life and basketball.
“I had such a great experience (in Israel) that I wanted to take something from that experience (back to the NBA),’’ Parker said to reporters in Toronto at the time. “The number 18, in Judaism, it means `chai’ and it’s a symbol for life and good fortune. And I thought that was something to take away from Israel and let them know I’m still representing them.’’
Parker’s NBA career has been over since 2012, but he’s always had his eye on being a NBA executive. He’s enthralled with the dynamics of building a team that can win a championship. After spending five years with the Magic as a scout, he said he can’t wait to start with the process of team-building and stockpiling talent for Lakeland’s G-League franchise. He’ll also keep his strong ties to the Magic by continuing to scout for the parent club.
Already, Parker has started calling former teammates and executives from his stints in the NBA and EuroLeague, seeking advice on what it takes to be a successful GM. At some point, their tips will likely come full circle and point back to this for Parker: Find players as driven by a challenge and determined as he was as a player for 15 years.
“It’s a very intriguing job and any time you do something for the first time there’s going to be a learning process and there will be growth involved,’’ Parker said. “I’m excited about the challenge and I’ve got a lot to learn. I’ve been reaching out to some of my friends who have experience doing it (as a GM). But to me, a lot of it is about surrounding yourself with good people and we have that (in Lakeland).’’
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