Eyes wide open

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Two weeks after Anthony Parker touched down to play for Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2000, bloody clashes broke out in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between Israeli forces and Palestinians.

"We were looking around like, 'what are we doing here?'" Parker said yesterday. "They were fighting 45 minutes from our door step."

When you play in the NBA, a big concern off the court is what kind of souffles they're serving on the team's private jet. Suddenly, after spending parts of three years in the NBA, Parker found himself in one of the most volatile areas of the world, playing for a team he knew virtually nothing about.

"I'm not going to lie," Parker said at a press conference to announce his signing with the Raptors. "I went over there with the intention of playing one year."

TURNED INTO SIX

That one year turned into six, with a stop with Virtus Roma.

Drafted in the first round by the New Jersey Nets in 1997 after four impressive years at Bradley University, Parker figured a long career in the NBA awaited him.

Alas, the Nets traded his draft rights to Philadelphia, a team rich in backcourt talent with a coach (Larry Brown) not known for his patience with young players.

Following a season polishing the 76ers bench with his butt, Parker was traded to the Orlando Magic in 1999, but failed to crack the rotation after hurting his ankle in the pre-season.

Parker played 26 games with Quad City of the CBA during the 1999-2000 season and then embarked on his extended road trip. But unlike many players in his position, the Naperville, Ill., native viewed his demotion, if you will, as a positive. He vowed to play hard and to keep an open mind and, as it turned out, the longer he played in Israel, the less he pined for a return to North America.

"It was an adjustment, but it was a great experience. Things you can't put a price tag on," he said. "It's really changed me on how I view the world and different people."

Parker became a huge fan favourite on the Maccabi team, the most important and successful franchise in Israel, and earned the reputation as being the best player outside the NBA, leading Maccabi to five Israeli championships and two Euroleague titles, and was the Euroleague MVP in both the 2004-05 and 2005-06 seasons.

Parker became part of the community in Tel Aviv, developing a thick skin to all the troubles, like any other local.

"It's really a trade off," he said. "I felt safer there than I did in any other major city in the States. The threat is different. You can walk down the street and get mugged here."

After spending six seasons with Maccabi, the itch to come home, while always there, was not quite as strong and Parker said he wouldn't have made the jump to the NBA now if the deal wasn't almost perfect. He wouldn't take a major pay cut or sign with a team that didn't really need him to play regular minutes, even if they threw ridiculous money at him.

THE RIGHT FIT

The Raptors seemed to be the right fit. General manager Bryan Colangelo obviously has an affinity for European-based players and the Raptors certainly can use help at the small forward and shooting guard positions.

Parker's athleticism appeals to the Raptors as they apparently plan to play uptempo. Whatever they want, Parker said, he will attempt to provide.

"At 31, how many more years do I have to really play?" he said. "It's really being part of something for me now."

And while he is happy to be back in the NBA, his family is thrilled. In fact, his sister Candace plans to visit him in Toronto today, the same Candace Parker who achieved basketball fame when, on March 19, 2006, she became the first woman to dunk in an NCAA tournament game.

"She may be only the third-best player in the family," Parker said with a laugh. "My younger brother (Marcus) is also very good."


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