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One final Euro trip for Tony Parker

Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

MONTPELLIER, France -- Tony Parker has little left to prove, in the NBA or international basketball, but it is the pursuit of history, the San Antonio Spurs guard claims, that will drive him on for the remainder of his playing career.

Trading silver and black for bleu, the four-time NBA champion will start his quest for the second EuroBasket title of his career in the Mediterranean city of Montpellier on Saturday when defending champion France faces Finland in a group-stage opener.

Despite the joys of a 15-month-old son, and multiple distractions off the court, Parker has still opted to return for a tournament that doubles up as one of the qualifiers for the 2016 Olympic Games after sitting out last summer's FIBA World Cup.

And while at the age of 33 he has signaled his national duty will come to a close after 2016, the lure of playing on home soil for a significant prize too irresistible to turn down.

"My idol was Michael Jordan," Parker said. "He was always motivated to get better. Lots of people have asked me, 'Tony, why do you continue to play for the French national team? There's nothing to prove.' But I'm motivated, to play as long as possible, to use my talents for as long as possible and to push my limits.

"You look for things to motivate you. There's history you can look at. There have been many great teams that have come before you: Yugoslavia, the great teams, Spain [now]. They're a super example for us. ... Perhaps in 10, 15, 20 years, we'll have inspired the basketball players of France."

Parker's legacy as the nation's greatest hoops product, with six NBA All-Star appearances, two FIBA European Player of the Year awards, plus a Legion D'Honneur, one of his country's highest honors is already secure -- 14 years after he first pulled on a blue jersey in the summer before he headed to the Spurs as a rookie, going to EuroBasket 2001 but running into a Dirk Nowitzki-shaped wall in a quarterfinal defeat to Germany.

Since then, he has made a case to rival his fellow future Hall of Famer with his body of work in a way few, not even Parker, would have imagined when he initially landed in San Antonio as a fish out NBA water.

Now, he says, "it's an honor to be in a conversation for the best European player in history. You don't think of that when you start. You have all the names, guys like [Toni] Kukoc, [Drazen] Petrovic who stood out in European basketball. It's bizarre to think of someone from France being near No. 1."

The French will have it easy in the opening round here. Once it gets to the medal phase, starting from the round of 16 onward, a roster that also includes Spurs teammate Boris Diaw, Hornets swingman Nicolas Batum and Jazz center Rudy Gobert figure to find the challenges coming thick and fast.

We cannot get started soon enough, Parker insists, despite the departures of three players due to injury during the final week of their preparations.

They are favorites, but not overconfident.

"I look back at 2013, against Slovenia in the quarterfinals, when we were super-motivated," he adds. "And we know we competed in a way no team would have beaten us like that."

"Lots of people have asked me, 'Tony, why do you continue to play for the French national team? There's nothing to prove.' But I'm motivated to play as long as possible, to use my talents for as long as possible and to push my limits."
Tony Parker

Now, with police escorts everywhere they go, visits from government officials and their faces plastered over billboards and broadcasts, the French team has never had it so good. But Parker still lacks an Olympic medal to go with his NBA title rings. And he has become so used to winning in San Antonio and back in his homeland, there is no reason to stop now.

"We are already a team of history because no French team had ever won the EuroBasket before," he declares. "But it is a beautiful chance to do it again, to win another title.

"My generation can look at the example of Spain, with Pau Gasol, and their great generation that has won a lot of medals. That defended their title and played in three successive finals. They won their first title in 2009 and defended it in 2011. That's an example for us, to try and continue to dominate in Europe.

"But it's hard. It's been hard for a long time."