Tony Parker & Hapoel Tel Aviv owner Ofer Yannay announce preseason tourney

It’s not everyday that a Hall of Fame basketball player visits the Holy Land, but that’s exactly what happened when Tony Parker arrived in Israel for meetings with Hapoel Tel Aviv in order to out the finishing touches on a preseason tournament slated for the fall.

Parker, who won 4 NBA Championships with the San Antonio Spurs is the owner and president of ASVEL Villeurbanne from Lyon who play in the Euroleague and arrived in Israel to show support for his counterpart at Hapoel Tel Aviv, Ofer Yannay in this exciting endeavor as the Reds continue to turn heads this offseason.

Tony Parker and Ofer Yannay – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

The tournament which will include Hapoel Jerusalem, Lithuanian Champions Rytas Vilnius, ASVEL Villeurbanne and Hapoel Tel Aviv will mark the first time that European basketball will return to Israel since the beginning of the war against Hamas back in October 2023.

“Building a great club will require the ability to cooperate with the best,” Yannay remarked. “I’m honored to have Tony Parker here with me who was someone I used to watch play in the middle of the night. I’m happy today that we can announce that there will be a pre-season tournament in Tel Aviv and that ASVEL Villeurbanne will be here along with Hapoel Jerusalem and the Lithuanian Champions Rytas Vilnius. More teams want to join, but this will be the first set of games that will be in Israel since the tragedy that we experienced on October 7th.”

Parker, who was thrilled to be in Israel added “I’m very excited to be here and I have a lot of fans here. It’s been a great two days to finalize the tournament and to bring my team here. Ofer has a lot of passion and a passion to be the best. Agent Matan Siman Tov who I work with made the connection between us and he has plenty of players like Zacharrie Risacher who was the first pick in this year’s NBA Draft along with Israeli Noam Yaacov who is now playing with Hapoel Tel Aviv. When I saw what Ofer wanted to create, I wanted to put my support behind it and that’s why I’m here.”

Tony Parker – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

With the onset of the war last October, all European matches in both basketball and soccer have been played abroad with no home games taking place in Israel. Yannay wanted to find a way to get continental competition back to the country and this is the first step to do just that.

“I think it will help tremendously and when Tony Parker says everything is back to normal here it will help a lot. The cooperation between the two clubs will help generate more clubs that will come to Israel.”

Despite the war and uneasiness that has enveloped the country, Parker felt comfortable to come to Tel Aviv at the behest of close associates and his desire to help Israeli basketball get back to normal.

Tony Parker – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I was not afraid to come here, not at all,” Parker said. “I trust my friends and they said it very safe in Tel Aviv. Basketball is growing here and I played against Omri Casspi and the Israel National Team as well. You can see through the years that the game is growing here. I was very impressed with Noam Yaacov and I am trying to get him to the NBA and I want to see now that he will have a great year in Hapoel. I will be watching him and I hope that he will be drafted next year.”

Yaacov played for Parker’s Villeubanne over the past few seasons, first in the youth ranks and then with the senior squad which participates in the French domestic LNB League as well as the Euroleague while Hapoel Tel Aviv plays in the EuroCup, the second best league in Europe. With that, Parker hopes that his time in France gave him the skills which will help him take the next step with a regular role at Hapoel and then the NBA.

“There’s a gap in Israeli basketball. The first division is competitive but young players don’t know where they can go to play when they have a lot of talent. That’s why Matan called me about Noam Yaacov. We have players from many countries at my Academy and that it why we collaborated in this instance. We want to help Noam reach his ultimate goal which is to play in the NBA and Hapoel Tel Aviv will give him a chance to play serious minutes. We hope that there will be many more players that we can bring over to France who are 15, 16 and 17 years old.

Noam Yaacov – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I want Noam Yaacov to keep improving and he had to find the best fit to showcase his talent. I think Hapoel is the best spot from him. Matan and I speak about him all the time and he’s lucky that he has a great agent like Matan and he wants to have a great year here in Israel and then make it to the NBA.”

Parker’s Academy is not only helping develop the next generation of players but also is giving back to those that may not end up playing at the highest of levels if at all by giving them skills to live a normal daily life.

“I’m always looking for young talent to improve my teams. Noam was very competitive in our youth team as well as our professional team. He had a good year as a backup guard in the Euroleague. I like to see my academy grow as it’s a place for players from all over the world. I like to travel the world as well and I like different cultures which is great for life. I do know that 98% of the kids in my Academy won’t make it to the NBA or the Euroleague but I want to take care of them and that when they get out of the academy that they have a job and a proper life. I have an institute that help them where I can give back. I wanted to give back to my country and also give to many other kids from around the world.”

Tony Parker, Noam Yaacov and Ofer Yannay – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Parker added, ”Playing in the NBA and for the French National Team helped me develop and I learned so much from my days there. I played on both my whole career and it’s helped me a lot as I am now the president of a Euroleague team. Basketball has evolved very quickly and it’s a different game. In 5-10 years we will see other things as the players are also sporting different bodies, just look at Victor Wembanyama. I took stuff from when I was playing and applied what I learned.”

Yannay finds this a very important part of being an owner of a professional basketball team by giving his players an off of the court education, “One of the things that helped me connect us is that we are both owners of basketball teams. You usually see basketball guys as owners, but we also both come from a business perspective. When I spoke to Tony about the tournament I said that we are investing in the players both on and off of the court.  I asked him to give a lecture to the players when he comes for the tournament about going from basketball to business.”

With Yannay heavily investing in Hapoel Tel Aviv, his goal is to find a way to move up and play in the Euroleague with all of the top teams in the continent and Parker sees this as a real possibility that can become a reality.

Tony Parker – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

“I don’t see any reason why it can’t happen that Hapoel Tel Aviv will one day be in the Euroleague. We want the Euorleague to grow and we spoke in meetings about having 18, 20, 24 teams, we spoke about those options. When you have an owner that is super passionate about basketball then that’s why I am here. You see many cities that have two top flight football teams in like Rome and Madrid and also two basketball teams in Belgrade and Athens for example. So there is no reason why there can’t be two Euroleague teams in Tel Aviv as well.”

Parker who starred for the Spurs couldn’t stay away from a topic that is near and dear to his heart which is the NBA, the young French stars who are changing the game as well as how he views his former club.

“Victor Wembanyama won a championship at ASVEL and Zachrrie Risacher also won some championships in the youth department. French basketball is in a good place and I hope it will continue to grow. The Spurs are doing well and Chris Paul was a good addition. It’s weird to see you in a Spurs jersey as we played against each other for so many years. It’s funny to see him there but he will help Wembanyama get better. It’s a process in San Antonio so it will take a bit of time.”

Tony Parker and Ofer Yannay – Photo credit: Yehuda Halickman

Interestingly enough, the last time Hapoel Tel Aviv and ASVEL played one another was back in 1969 which also was the year that the Reds last won the Israeli league title, a goal that Yannay should no doubt want to reach this coming season Parker explained, “It’s a long time since Hapoel Tel Aviv won the league championship and it was the also a long time since we last played one another with both coming in 1969.”

“1969 was the last time we played ASVEL and the last time we won a league title,” Yannay exclaimed. “When a long time fan saw we were having this get together he brought me some flags from the last game we played each other and I gave one to Tony as well. We know what happened that season and we hope that the results will be the same this year.”

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