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Paris attacks on minds of league's French players

Hornets' Batum, Bulls' Noah concerned about terror back home

POSTED: Nov 14, 2015 2:59 AM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner

NBA.com

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Batum speaks on Paris

Nicolas Batum, a native of France, speaks on the grave situation in Paris.

Nicolas Batum was on his phone until he absolutely had to go, introductions and an anthem and, on this night, a moment of silence forcing him from the visitors' dressing room at United Center. Some two hours later, he was back, scrolling through messages, poking back texts of his own.

Batum was a world away from the devastating terrorist attacks in Paris, in his homeland, when he and his Charlotte Hornets teammates faced the Chicago Bulls Friday night. As an athlete, he was in the moment, scoring 28 points, hitting five of his six 3-pointers, logging nearly 35 minutes in the 102-97 loss.

As a son, boyfriend, friend and native of Lisieux, France, though, Batum's mind and heart were back home, as helpless as if he were a bystander to the senseless killing.

"My sister lives close by where one of the attacks happened," the Hornets wing player said. "The first thing I did [after the game] was check my phone to make sure everything was good. I thought about it all game. I wanted to [have] a good game to show them in my way 'We're strong.'

"They told me Paris is like a war outside," said Batum, 26. "The army is outside. It's difficult because I watched the numbers. Before the game there were only 40 people killed. After the game they say 120. But we're strong, we're tough and we're going to be all right. We're going to stay strong and they won't get us."

The series of terror attacks that stunned the world Friday sent shockwaves through the NBA as well. With 11 games scheduled across the U.S. and in Toronto, the league notified all host teams to be on heightened security alerts in their buildings. The aforementioned moment of silence at United Center was replicated at the other games even as the death toll continued to climb.

And the NBA's community of international players, particularly those with connections to France specifically or from other European nations, was shaken by the deadliest such attacks to hit Paris since World War II.

Chicago's Joakim Noah was rattled by the horrific shootings, explosions and hostage situations, and sought out Batum -- and vice versa -- before the opening tap at United Center.

"I saw Noah," Batum said, "and the first time I see him on the court I asked, 'Is your family OK?' And he asked, 'Is your family OK?' We're fine and he's fine, too."

Then Batum caught himself.

"I'm fine but I'm not, because we lost people for nothing," he said. "Stupid people and I don't know why they are doing that. We've got to stay strong. I tried to show people in my way that we're strong and we won't [back] down because you are doing bad stuff to people. We'll keep our heads up, step forward and say we're better than that."

Pelicans' Ajinca Speaks On Paris

Alexis Ajinca, a native of France, speaks on the grave situation in Paris.

Noah managed to do his job Friday night, too, grabbing 18 rebounds in 22:53 off the Bulls bench. Controlling the glass was the key -- a 57-45 edge -- as Chicago made up for its 130-105 drubbing in Charlotte last week.

"Control" was a humbling word by the end of the night, though, with so much out of so many heartsick folks' hands.

"It's very sad what's going on in Paris," said Noah, who has dual citizenship and has played for the French national team in Eurobasket competition. "A lot of people died for no reason. We're not really sure what happened."

Noah said he called family before the game to learn they were all right. He texted his father, former tennis pro-turned-pop star Yannick Noah, in Cameroon, safe and far from the day's incidents.

But the monotone answers Noah gave to a few basketball questions afterward made it clear Noah was somewhere else himself, besides a postgame locker room on the West Side of Chicago.

Teammate Pau Gasol, a native of Spain and a citizen of the world, said he knew Noah was worried and hurting prior to the game, yet managed to set his concerns aside for their time on the court.

"It's very sad. Very sad, what's happened in Paris," Gasol added. "You try to focus and do what you have to do but at the same time, your mind is there, your heart is there. And you know that a lot of people are suffering. A lot of people died. Overall, just devastating news.

"Hopefully at one point, these kind of attacks stop. It's just not human. Not fair."

Batum said he was watching -- online -- the soccer match between France and Germany at Stade de France when two loud explosions rocked the stadium. French President Francois Hollande was evacuated. Batum heard the explosions in the background of the broadcast.

"I couldn't believe it. It was like a movie or something like that," he said. "Too crazy to believe. Such a tough day."

His sister Pauline was close, he said, but not harmed. "All my family and friends are OK," Batum said. "But I'm sad and I'm praying for all the families who lost someone. So many people dying for this thing by stupid people. I don't know why they're doing that. I'm just praying for those people who lost someone today.

"France, we'll do everything we can to stop things like that. That's a terrible thing to happen to us. In January it happened and 10 months later it happened again."

In January, Islamist terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a Paris weekly newspaper, and killed 12 people. After that assault, former Washington Wizards forward Kevin Seraphin wore a shirt in tribute to those murdered. A native of French Guiana who moved with his family to Paris as a teenager and played professionally there before entering the NBA in the 2010 draft, he still owns a home there. His parents are with him in New York now and his brother is in Toronto, but Seraphin -- who now plays for the Knicks -- said late Friday he had cousins and many friends about whom he still was worried.

"I'm scared that this is starting to be often," Seraphin said. "You don't want that to start to be something that happens every two months. If you don't feel safe anymore in the country like you want, you don't want to be there, so it's kind of sad."

The senselessness of the attacks themselves, the randomness with which they're carried out, the carnage that ensues, all of it stirred feelings of anger, confusion and sorrow in the players who spoke about and were touched by it.

"[One] attack happened in a concert hall, and I go to a lot of concerts," Gasol said. "Last night I was at the opera. So when something like this happens and you're in a place like that... You don't think about those things. You don't think that somebody is actually going to come and execute ... hundreds."

Gasol shrugged when asked if he feels safe traveling across the league and playing in arenas that could be targeted in North America same as they internationally. "Everybody has to be on alert, for sure," he said. "It's very worrisome and very alarming. Everyone has to be aware of these events and that people are actually capable of going through with things like this."

With, for now, no apparent end in sight.

"I do wonder [where we're headed]," the veteran All-Star big man said. "I don't know how we can stop these kinds of things. I trust on humans' kindness but this is something that I will never understand. These types of things are not justified. They're not reasonable. They're atrocious. It's sad that innocent people died like this.

"You want to prevent this from happening and stop this movement. I'm sure things are being done, ongoing. But I'm not sure what else or how much [more] harsh you can get."

NBA.com's John Schuhmann contributed to this report.

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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