Parsons has been in their seats, so to speak. Long before anybody would have pictured Parsons as an NBA prospect, his family owned Orlando Magic season tickets, so he’s plenty familiar with the feeling of fan heartbreak.
“If one of my favorite players left, I would boo them if they came back,” Parsons told ESPNDallas.com, smiling and sipping iced coffee at a café in his uptown Dallas neighborhood a couple of days before returning to Houston as Public Enemy No. 1 in a first-round playoff series. “That’s just how the world works.
“I booed Shaq when he came back. I booed T-Mac when he came back. You boo everybody when they come back. If you’re passionate as a fan, a die-hard fan, you don’t care about the player. You care about the team.”
It’s not just that Parsons left Houston. It’s where he went ... and how he left.
It’d have been a tough enough pill for Rockets fans to swallow seeing Parsons depart for the Dallas Mavericks, as there has never been any love lost between the two biggest cities in the Lone Star State, even before Mavs owner Mark Cuban and Rockets general manager Daryl Morey started their verbal sparring bouts a couple of summers ago.
"If one of my favorite players left, I would boo them if they came back. That's just how the world works." Chandler Parsons
Did Parsons really have to sign his three-year, $46 million offer sheet at the stroke of midnight -- the first moment allowed -- while partying in an Orlando nightclub with Cuban? And then let his buddy known as DMoSwag post a picture of the smiling pair on Twitter to go viral? And then trade long-distance verbal jabs with Morey and Houston stars James Harden and Dwight Howard after the Rockets declined their right to match the near-max offer?
You can’t blame Parsons, a tremendous second-round success story, for eagerly accepting a 1500-percent raise when presented the opportunity. But Houston fans sure can hate him, as a quick scroll through his Twitter mentions will confirm.
Then again, none of this will really be relevant when the Mavs-Rockets series tips off Saturday night. If it is, it’s Parsons’ problem.
“This isn’t Parsons against the Rockets,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It’s the Mavericks against the Rockets. That’s the clear picture that we have to maintain and sustain in our mind.”
That message has come through loud and clear to Parsons, the small forward who averaged 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game in his first season for the Mavs.
Parsons, who publicly declared this summer that he was “offended” by Morey’s assessment that he wasn’t a third star on a contender worthy of a major salary commitment, insists he isn’t going into the playoff series hoping to prove the Rockets wrong. Nor is he necessarily trying to win the individual matchup with Trevor Ariza, the 3-and-D championship ring-owning veteran who the Rockets signed to a more cap-friendly deal to fill his spot in the starting lineup, a move by Morey that proved critical to second-seeded Houston's 56-win season.
Parsons, who has never advanced to the second round despite putting up good postseason numbers (18.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 12 games) with the Rockets, enters the playoffs with the purest of goals.
“This has nothing to do with me going back to Houston,” Parsons said. “This is about us trying to win four games before they do. That’s the objective, that’s the goal, for us to advance. That’s way bigger than any individual agenda or individual motive that anybody could have in this series.
“The storyline may be that me going back there is going to be fun, but that’s irrelevant to us. I’m comfortable going back there. I hope to play well and hope to be playing with my knee, but that [storyline] has nothing to do with how I’m going to play. I’m going to approach this like any other series. If the boos come, the boos come.”
Oh, you can bet that the boos will come, beginning with the first step Parsons takes on the floor for pregame warm-ups. That’s the way it was during Dallas’ two trips down Interstate 45 this season, with Rockets fans making a brief exception when the team played a Parsons tribute video during his first trip back to Houston.
The boos bothered Parsons that November night, when he scored only eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in a 95-92 loss.
Parsons had taken pride in building a bond with the Houston fan base during his first few seasons in the league, when he was the go-to guy for the Rockets’ community relations department. He was a bit taken aback by the visceral welcome back.
Parsons was much better prepared emotionally for the Mavs’ return to Houston in late January. It was another close loss for Dallas, but Parsons played well, scoring 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
“It’s definitely an uncomfortable feeling, but at the end of the day, I’m doing what I’ve done my whole life and what I love to do, and that’s play basketball,” Parsons said. “I’ve played in hostile environments before. This was just a little weird, just coming from a team where I spent three years, knowing the staff, knowing the fans and seeing that [reaction].
“I wouldn’t say rattled. If anything, it gets me more hyped. I fully expect that again. I’m OK with that and I’ll move forward.”
Parsons has no regrets about his departure from the Rockets and the aftermath, saying both parties made business decisions that benefited them. Parsons acknowledged “some feelings got involved,” but he quickly patched up his relationships with Harden (his MVP choice) and Howard, and he remains tight with coach Kevin McHale and assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Parsons doesn’t talk to Morey anymore but said there’s no bad blood between them.
The one thing Parsons does wish is that his breakup with the Rockets fans would have gone a little smoother.
“That’s the only sad thing for me,” Parsons said. “I go back there and people that were cheering for me a year ago are viciously booing me now when I come back. But that’s part of the game. That’s what makes the NBA so fun. That’s what makes the playoffs so fun.”
Parsons’ most pressing concern is preparing physically for the playoffs, not trying to win popularity contests in Houston.
A sore right knee has sidelined Parsons since April 2, when he left in the third quarter with the Mavs leading the Rockets by eight points, a game Dallas ended up losing. He sat out the past six games of the regular season, suffering a minor setback Sunday that prevented him from knocking off rust and establishing a rhythm in the final two games, as originally planned.
Parsons has made major progress this week, leaving him optimistic that he’ll be in the starting lineup Saturday night, although not 100 percent. He followed up an intense individual workout Wednesday night by playing 1-on-1 Thursday and plans to practice with the team Friday for the first time in more than two weeks.
“Coming off of this injury, he can’t just jump back in all at once and expect to be into the thick of it, be the same guy,” Carlisle said. “It’s got to be done the right way. I got to do a good job with seeing how he’s doing in terms of fatigue, whether he’s having problems with the injury or whatever and we got to get him in and out.”
At this point, Parsons is focused on getting back on the floor and contributing to the seventh-seeded Mavs pulling off what would be considered an upset. He understands that a certain spotlight comes with his circumstances in this series, but he doesn’t want to waste any time worrying about it.
“I’m just trying to prepare myself to be healthy enough to compete and play in Game 1, and I’ll block out all the distractions,” Parsons said. “There won’t be any added drama from me. I’m just trying to play basketball and help my team to win the game and the series.”
Perhaps preventing the Rockets from getting past the first round in the process would be a nice little bonus for Parsons, but you sure as heck won’t hear him say it.