Perley’s Press Pass: Hornets Embarking for Paris, Ready to Compete on Global Stage
Nearly 10 months removed from the original official announcement, the Charlotte Hornets are finally on their way to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the first-ever regular season NBA game in Paris, France this coming Friday night.
Although this will be the franchise’s first-ever in-season game outside of North America, the Hornets have actually suited up in the City of Lights once before. Back on Oct. 18, 1994, they faced the Golden State Warriors at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy (same site as this year’s game, but now called the AccorHotels Arena) for a preseason contest.
Head Coach James Borrego is also familiar with area, having traveled to France for training camp in Paris and Lyon with the San Antonio Spurs in addition to taking part in a regular season game in Mexico City in Jan. 2017.
“The French people are wonderful. They love basketball and understand it at a high level,” said Borrego. “I know the city and country are just thrilled to have us there. I’m really happy for Nic as well to get back to his home, allow us to see his country, enjoy and embrace it. It’s a special moment for all of us.”
Besides Batum, the Charlotte and Milwaukee rosters feature five other European players: Willy Hernangómez (Spain), Giannis and Thanasis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Ersan Ilyasova (Turkey) and Dragan Bender (Croatia), who is currently on assignment in the G League.
“I think it’s special for all the Europeans, not just Nic,” Borrego added. “Europe is where they learned the game, where they started their dreams. For somebody like Tony Parker or Nic Batum to see a game come back to their home and to be a part of it is going to be special. When you think about NIc and where he’s come from to where he’s at today, I don’t think he could be more excited about this opportunity. I know he’s going to embrace the moment.”
“The first NBA game I watched live was a preseason one in Paris between San Antonio and Memphis in 2003,” recalled Batum. “I was sitting way up high in the same arena we’re going to be playing in. To be there 17 years later and for myself to be on the court is going to be something special. When I watched that game, I thought, ‘That’d be cool one day. That could be me down there.’ I was 14 years old and I’m now 31. To be on that court as a French kid, it’s special.”
He added, “I don’t know how I’m going to react. I’m going to have a lot of family and friends go there. A lot of familiar faces. It’s going to be a good moment. I’m just going to try and enjoy it and hopefully have a good game. We’re playing against a good team and we still have a game to play. I’ll soak in the moment for a little while and just try and stay focused.”
A native of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bismack Biyombo was in a similar situation almost five years ago when both he and Batum played in an exhibition contest during the offseason down in South Africa. It was the first time any NBA competition at been played on the continent in history.
“For me, it was mind-blowing,” reminisced Biyombo. “We were in Africa playing an NBA game. What are the odds? If somebody had told me that it would have been something [when I was younger], I wouldn’t have believed it. I think this is beyond just going back home for Nic because he has his family and friends there. I don’t know how many tickets he needs, but he’s going to have to run down a lot of tickets.”
“We should all be excited for him. It’s a good opportunity for him to play in front of his people. It’s a dream come true for him seeing this game because it’s probably going to inspire a lot more kids. That’s very important – inspiring the next generation. He’ll be able to do that and I’m excited to see him do it.”
While the logistics that go into traveling to Europe in the middle of the season can be a bit uncustomary for NBA players and coaching staffs (there is still a game to play, of course), Borrego is viewing the game in Paris with a unique light.
“I want to use this trip as an opportunity to grow with my team. This is a great time to bond, gel and use it as a midseason breather or a little mini-camp. It’s a chance to get away, reconnect as a team because this league is tough. You’re out on the road a ton playing games, trying to survive at times and I want our group to really enjoy the moment. We’ll be on the global stage and I’m thrilled for our guys to be out there. It’s big for our organization, big for our league and most importantly, big for our players to go out there and show their talents.”
“I think it’s going to be great for us,” said Miles Bridges. “I, personally, have never been over there, so it’s going to be fun for us. We’re going to have a lot of team bonding and I feel like we’ll get better as a team over there. It’s going to be great for Nic.”
Having dropped 13 of their last 15 outings dating back to before Christmas, the Hornets are in a little rut right now and perhaps getting away at this point of the season (regardless of the outcome against the East-leading 39-6 Bucks), will be beneficial. Showcasing themselves on the global stage with a chance to inspire others will only add to what will be a memorable excursion for the team.