Non-basketball fans who tuned into the U.S. men's national basketball team's opening preliminary round matchup against France at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sunday might have recognized French point guard Tony Parker from his (since-ended) marriage to "Desperate Housewives" star Eva Longoria. But if you thought something looked a bit different about him, it's not just you — he didn't always wear black-rimmed glasses on the court, and the story behind them is ... well ... quite something.
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Just over one month ago, Parker was enjoying a night out on the town in New York City with some friends, culminating in a stop at Manhattan nightclub W.i.P. Also in attendance that night? R&B stars Drake and Chris Brown, who, as you might have heard, had been embroiled in what the New York Daily News called "a festering beef [...] over their gorgeous ex-girlfriend," fellow star Rihanna. The bad blood boiled over in the club that night, with members of each singer's entourage reportedly tossing around liquor bottles in a melee that resulted in multiple injuries ... including one to Parker, with shards of glass from a broken bottle entering his left eye.
At first, the injury was deemed relatively minor, with Parker telling reporters in France that it would not "prevent me from competing in the Olympics in any way." One week later, Parker filed a $20 million lawsuit against the club and its owners, alleging that mismanagement created the dangerous environment that resulted in his injury.
Two days after that, Parker — an All-Star point guard with the NBA's San Antonio Spurs — revealed that the damage was significantly worse than originally thought. "A piece of glass [...] had penetrated 99 percent of my left eye," Parker said in an interview posted on his website, and his status for the Olympics was cast in doubt.
"I can't believe it," Parker said of the news that he had nearly lost his eye. "I just spent eight days locked in my hotel. I was not allowed out, to prevent an infection. I was so afraid that I have not left my room."
Parker and his French national teammates got some good news a couple of weeks later, when three eye specialists — one French, two American (provided by Parker's stateside employer, the Spurs) — confirmed that he was fit to resume competition and cleared him to participate in the Olympics. With one caveat, of course — he had to wear protective goggles on the court to prevent further injury to the eye. Hence, the horn-rimmed hipster look you'll see Parker sporting throughout the Summer Games for Les Bleus.
Before the Olympics kicked off, Parker told Tom Withers of The Associated Press that the surreal series of events he's experienced over the past month have helped shine a spotlight on just how fragile an athletic existence can be. But the French leader insists he remains undeterred:
''It's so funny, because I just had my best year in the NBA and in one night it can change,'' said Parker, who will wear goggles during the Olympics. ''It just puts life in perspective and you think, 'OK, next time I have to be careful,' but at the same time you can't stop living because then you don't even cross the street.
''You don't want to dramatize too much, but it still puts it all in perspective.''
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There didn't seem to be any drastic difference in Parker's aggressive, tempo-pushing play during his participation in France's pre-London exhibition slate. At least, not according to his longtime friend, national teammate and fellow NBA veteran Ronny Turiaf. From Withers at the AP:
Turiaf hasn't noticed any dramatic change in his close friend.
''I haven't seen anything different,'' he said. ''Actually, I lied, he plays with goggles now.''
Sharp eyes on that Ronny Turiaf.
The new-look, four-eyed Parker and his French compatriots faced a very stern first test against the heavily favored Americans on Sunday morning, and they did not fare well.
After sluggish early play that saw them lead by just one point after the first quarter, Team USA turned on the jets and blew the French side away, notching a 98-71 victory behind strong performances by Kevin Durant and LeBron James, among others. Following the game, first lady Michelle Obama congratulated Team USA by giving each player and coach a hug before he left the floor. There were no such hugs for the vanquished French.
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