A slam-dunk to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, French basketball phenom Victor Wembanyama is now a member of the Spurs after San Antonio lucked out and scored the chance to select the slender 7′ 5″ potential future star.
Wembanyama, who joins Bilal Coulibaly (No. 7 overall in 2023), Killian Hayes (No. 7 in ’20) and Frank Ntilikina (No. 8 in ’17) as French players taken in the top 10 in the draft, will be the sixth player from France to suit up for the Spurs and follow in the sneakersteps of Boris Diaw (2012-2016), Ian Mahinmi (2007-2010), Nando De Colo (2012-2014), Joffrey Lauvergne (2017-2018) and Tony Parker (2001-2018).
Parker, a four-time NBA champ who is scheduled to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield on August 12, knows Wembanyama well and two of the 19-year-old’s siblings attend the 41-year-old’s Adéquat basketball academy. According to Parker, Wembanyama wanted to come to San Antonio and play for the Spurs under legendary head coach Gregg Popovich.
“It has been an unbelievable journey. I’m so happy for him and his family. It feels like it was destiny for him,” Parker tells InsideHook. “It’s pretty cool to have him keep going with the legacy and the French connection we have with the Spurs. Obviously I’m a little bit biased, but I think he’s in a perfect spot with Coach Pop, one of the best coaches in NBA history. I think he’s going to have the patience he needs to meet expectations. He did his homework. He knows he’s ready. He’s in the right spot.”
A frequent host of wine dinners at his estate in San Antonio that were attended by Popovich and others, Parker has spent the last year learning about the wine business as part of a partnership with Michel Reybier and has done everything from pruning and harvesting to blending and bottling while working with the luxury brand’s team of winemakers in Provence and Champagne.
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Unfortunately for Wembanyama, he won’t be enjoying the fruits of Parker’s labor. “He doesn’t drink. He’s very, very focused on his career,” Parker says. “It’s good. He can drink later. He’s 19, so he’s got time for a lot of that.”
Now that he’s retired, Parker has all the time for wine he needs. Thanks to his wine dinners with Popovich, that was also the case during Parker’s playing days in the NBA. “I started drinking wine when I was 17 and I was 19 when I got drafted by the Spurs,” he says. “Coach Pop was always reading wine magazines on the plane and that’s how we bonded at first. We started drinking wine after games, talking about basketball and working on our relationship. After a while, I started organizing dinners at my house. Then, in the summer, I would go to vineyards and build relationships with people to get great bottles. Going to vineyards, you learn a lot. I’m very curious and ask a lot of questions. I’m a big sponge.”
A big sponge who learned as much at his wine dinners as he did on his vineyard trips. “I played for 20 years, so I did a lot of dinners. They weren’t for team-building. They were for people who love wine. A specialist came and we’d talk about the wine, the vineyard and the history of the family who owned the castle,” Parker says. “Every castle that came would send us the list of the bottles they were going to bring and then work with my chef to pair the menu accordingly to make sure it was a high-end dinner. We were not talking about basketball at all. Pop never wants to talk basketball at the wine table. Never.”
Now that Parker is in the wine business, he’s the one educating his guests by bringing bottles from Château La Mascaronne and Champagne Jeeper to San Antonio. However, none of those bottles come from his personal collection because it doesn’t exist.
“My collection is bad because I drink. I don’t collect,” Parker says. “I always joke with my friends that my kids will have no wine. I will leave them money and they can build their own collection. But my collection, I’m gonna drink it. I’m more of a drinker because, for me, wine is about sharing it with the people you love and sharing great moments. Like, ‘You remember when we drink that bottle?’ I have a lot of great events coming up. You always remember what bottles you drank at a big event. I’m a little bit biased toward 1982s because I was born that year. It was one of the best years in wine, especially in Bordeaux. When I go to vineyards, the employees are always happy because they can use me as an excuse to open an ’82 with their owners. Then they come to thank me like, ‘It’s my first time drinking an ’82.’ It’s funny.”