International Hornets Fan Series: Say Ciao to Filippo Barresi from Alessandria, Italy

In celebration of the Charlotte Hornets playing their first-ever regular season game outside of North America on Friday, Jan. 24 in Paris, Hornets.com will be highlighting different international fans of the team in a three-part written series.
by Sam Perley

Filippo Barresi has never been one for hopping on the bandwagon. Growing up in the northwest city of Alessandria, Italy, he never warmed to rooting for local soccer powerhouse Juventus (the one with Cristiano Ronaldo), despite the team’s immense popularity and superstar players. Instead, Barresi supports lesser-known Sampdoria in nearby Genoa, thanks to his father’s fandom and own self-preference for the smaller clubs.

So, it makes sense then as to why he gravitated towards becoming a fan of the Charlotte Hornets when he first began taking notice of the NBA about seven years ago.

“I started getting Sky TV, which is really huge and popular here in Italy,” he recalled. “I noticed they started to put on some programs about the NBA. That year, the Bobcats were in last. I didn’t start watching games, but I always had sympathy for them. I started watching a lot of games starting with the 2014-15 season. I began falling in love with them and now, follow and watch all the games of the Hornets today.”

The now 21-year-old Barresi (@BarresiFilippo4 on Twitter) recently joined a start-up Italian-based blog called The Shot, which began this season and utilizes writers from all over the country to cover each of the 30 NBA teams as well as NCAA, FIBA and WNBA events. For the 70 or so bloggers working on the site, it’s a project that’s given a voice to a collection of passionate NBA disciples in a soccer-mad country.

“My friends asked me if I wanted to write about the Hornets for them and everything Hornets-related,” Barresi said. “We are all divided into different teams and everybody follows one team. The community is growing a lot not only in Italy, but all over Europe. You can see it with the Paris game and with more matinée NBA games increasing.”

Like a majority of other European-based basketball fans, watching NBA games in real time is a challenge for Barresi and his colleagues, who are often forced to choose between sleep or tuning in. Thankfully, the league has taken increased steps with more afternoon start times in North America in order to help increase viewership overseas.

“Those playing times are huge for us because every NBA match is generally in the middle of the night,” he said. “It’s hard to follow it live, so a lot of people catch up on the games the day after with NBA League Pass. With 82 games in a season, it’s quite difficult, but I know a lot of people, my friends and colleagues with The Shot that watch almost every game live.”

He added, “Social media plays a huge role in letting us Europeans follow a team. It helps people create a bond with the team and the league itself. It’s established a good grade of passion in people, which is what it’s all about. You can’t even try to keep up with the league and the 82 games without passion. It’s very important.”

Having been a Hornets fan from afar for quite some time now, Barresi unsurprisingly pinpointed Kemba Walker as his all-time favorite player as well as pair of memories in particular that stick out during his tenure following the team.

“I fell in love with Kemba and everything related to him. The way he played and how he behaved on the court is what kept me linked with the Hornets. Moments-wise, it is the Courtney Lee shot in the playoffs in 2016, even if we did end up losing the series. Last year with the All-Star Weekend in Charlotte, Kemba was an All-Star starter and Miles did the Slam Dunk Contest. I really enjoyed that weekend and that span of time. I remember those and I hope to add more. Every game, every season brings something new.”

Initially a tough pill to swallow, Barresi understood the departure of Walker was a necessary one for the franchise, even if it was a bit emotional. He’s certainly encouraged by the success of the team’s current younger players and like any great fan, is optimistic about what lies ahead.

“In the NBA, you have to stick to a plan and right now, it seems we have a plan. We’re developing young players and paying a lot of attention to the draft. I think we did a good job in the last two drafts, especially with PJ Washington and Cody Martin. Those are two players I love on the roster. Even with the acquisition of Terry Rozier, now you can understand why the Hornets did that. This year wasn’t necessarily a winning year. We’ll be playing young guys and have to watch the progress they’re having. It’s fun to follow this team. They’re fun to watch. I don’t know in which span of time it’s going to be good, but we are here and even if the Kemba departure was rough, we are going to be good somewhere in the future.”

And like other Europeans that follow the NBA on a regular basis, Barresi had a hard, albeit somewhat comical, time relating to many locals who find his passion a bit odd, a group that initially included both his girlfriend and parents.

“Some people see what I do as a strange thing, but with the people I work with, it’s not that strange. A lot of people here that are soccerheads ask, ‘Why would you wake up during the night to watch a basketball game?’ A lot of people don’t even know it’s possible to watch a game in the night. Explaining this to my girlfriend was a big step in our relationship, but she likes it. I don’t know if I can say she’s a Hornets fan, but sometimes she asks me something about them. She understands it. I thought it would be worse,” he said with a smile.

Barresi has made a pair of trips to the United States in his life, but the closest he’s come to seeing an NBA game in person was standing outside Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena in the middle of July on a school trip a few years back. Limited availability of tickets for the Hornets’ outing in Paris plus classes at the University of Turin (where Barresi is currently enrolled about

an hour from his hometown) means that long-awaited first game will have to wait, at least for now.

The league has certainly taken considerable steps to bridge the gap between its continental operations and the rest of the world. At the end of the day, fans like Barresi simply just want to be heard, regardless of their backgrounds or upbringings. And there’s no doubt the increased global interest in basketball has helped lead to the rise of current European-born NBA stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Luka Dončić (Slovenia), Nikola Jokić (Serbia), Rudy Gobert (France), Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia) and many more.

“Being a journalist here, it’s hard because there is the gap. I’d like the bond between the NBA and Europe to become stronger. The number of European players that are on top of the league is growing. NBA is the dream for every basketball player and it’s a dream for us because that player is close to us. The more European players that have success in the NBA, the more the fanbase here becomes more passionate about the NBA. The day Marco Belinelli won the championship for the Spurs in 2014, he was literally everything. He was the man of the moment, man of the year. It was unbelievable. If NBA players have success, they contribute to the passion here.”

With more and more dedicated fans like Filippo Barresi and his colleagues popping up all over the continent and the rest of the world, a shortage of passion for basketball shouldn’t ever be a problem for the NBA.

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