Rapide. That's the first word that comes to mind when I watch my fellow Frenchman and good friend Thierry Henry on the soccer pitch. Fast. I love it when he takes the ball and darts downfield for 30 yards, making one, two, three defenders fall as they chase him. He's breaking ankles out there. Every time he touches the ball, you know he's going to do something crazymaybe something you've never seen before.
But Thierry, 29, is so much more than a great soccer player who helped France reach last year's World Cup final and who has led his English club team, Arsenal, to four national-cup wins. He wants to change the world. It's no secret that European soccer is fighting a racism problem, in the crowd and on the field, and no player has done more to exorcise it than Thierry. After cameras caught Spain's national coach using a racist slur to describe Thierry in 2004, he could have lost his cool. Instead, Thierry, who is always steady, recruited a host of fellow soccer stars to launch his Stand Up Speak Up campaign, which raised millions of dollars and unprecedented awareness to fight racism. We talk about the problem all the time. Racism bothers him so much, but he wanted to attack it in a measured, professional manner. Given his upbringing in the ethnically diverse housing projects southwest of Paris, no one can speak out against intolerance better than Thierry. His impact has been immense. Sure, racism hasn't entirely disappeared from the soccer landscape, but you can sense it fading a bit. You've got to give Thierry some credit for this change.
My favorite athlete when I was growing up was Michael Jordan, because of the supreme confidence and control he displayed on the floor. Then I started watching Thierry play soccer, and you could see the same sureness in his eyes. I try to copy his approach on the basketball court, and I think everyone can learn that lesson from Thierry: be intense yet unflappable. Just don't count on being as fast.
Parker, captain of the French national basketball team, has won two NBA championships as a point guard with the San Antonio Spurs
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