It is by rushing through the wide gates of Bercy that we take stock of things. As if we had just crossed a portal, more spatio than temporal, and that we were now inside an NBA precinct. The pit that traditionally hosts concerts or matches already has all the attributes of a North American basketball game. The device is up to the event: this Friday, Bercy is hosting the first official NBA game in France, between the Milwaukee Bucks, currently one of the strongest teams, and the Charlotte Hornets.
The day before, the two teams warmed up in the hall of eastern Paris in front of a crowd of journalists who surely outnumber the training sessions open to the French team press or to PSG, even before a crucial match. It speaks more English than French, the cameras jostle, the flashes crackle, especially in the direction of the Greek genius of the Bucks, Giánnis Antetokoúnmpo. We almost forget that this meeting is just a regular season game between two teams that are not sailing in the same waters this season. This “NBA Paris Game” is however one of the key moments of the sport on French soil at the start of the season.
The NBA has swarmed abroad since 1990. Japan was then the promised land, 12 of the first 13 games played outside North America were played there, Mexico and the United Kingdom sharing the following matches, with an irregular rhythm – none for example between 2003 and 2011. It is however a first in France. Several preseason games, notably with Michael Jordan in the 90s, have certainly already taken place and the memories of these meetings are repeatedly evoked by basketball fans who were able to attend. But with a regular season game, we are in other spheres in terms of intensity and involvement of the athletes.
The NBA was starting to feel cramped on the banks of the Thames. The United Kingdom has had its day, and as soon as the work on the multi-purpose sports hall was completed, in 2015, the league had in mind to move its European hotspot there. Above all, France is one of the main basketball courts in the world, as illustrated by the contingent of French players in the NBA. Nicolas Batum, 31 years old, twelve of whom spent in the American league, will for example wear Charlotte’s tunic at Bercy. “It’s a pretty touching moment in a career, he explains. As a non-American player, playing an NBA game in your own country is quite special. “
It is also the result of intense lobbying by the Paris city hall. Four years into the Olympic Games which will transform or add a number of facilities and place the city at the center of the sports world, this match is like an aperitif. “This event fits into our big basketball strategy, explains Jean-François Martins, deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sports. We built or renovated nearby courts, we brought in old or past NBA stars, created a club, Paris Basket… It made no sense for London to organize this match, Paris is the real gateway of the NBA in Europe. “ The NBA has already announced that it will host another game next year.
What is this match worth?
The meeting may seem of little interest to neophytes. The Bucks have won nothing since 1971 and the Hornets’ record remains blank. It is not to grasp all the salt of this coming, parquet side as behind the scenes, it is also not to understand that the choice of these teams is not the result of chance or a desire not to put a poster on this side of the Atlantic.
Milwaukee is one of the favorites this season. Finalist in the Eastern Conference last year, they are currently at the top of the League, with 39 victories for only 6 defeats. In their ranks, nothing less than the Most Valuable Player 2019, the Greek Giánnis Antetokoúnmpo, who impresses each year a little more, physically (2.11 m in height) than technically. Spectators will take full eyes
What role did Michael Jordan and Nike play?
The Charlotte Hornets are the property of Michael Jordan. To believe Team, the best player of all time has personally “Asked the boss of the NBA, Adam Silver, to choose Paris, which has become the heart of the development strategy for his brand, Jordan Brand (a branch of … Nike), on the Old Continent”. A speech corroborated by these images of Hornets players dressed in Jordan sweets stamped Paris before entering the plane that dropped them in the City of Lights.
The capital is central to the development of the Nike subsidiary. In 2018, the two entered into a tens of millions of euros annual partnership with PSG in order to design jerseys and deliver many collections with unprecedented success. Antetokoúnmpo and his Milwaukee teammates were invited to visit the Parc des Princes on Wednesday, to collect their jersey flocked with their name in the players’ changing rooms and even to tap juggles on a stretch of lawn. If the Greek assured to be a fan of the PSG of Neymar and Mbappé – announced at the match this Friday -, we can be certain that it is especially the links between the NBA, Nike and PSG which made it possible to thin the whole barnum.
Who is this match reserved for?
However, the party cannot be shared with the majority of fans. The extent of the wait was such that a few tens of minutes after the ticket office opened, the virtual queue exceeded 100,000 people. The prices, too, were considered prohibitive. With an entry ticket at 65 euros, a sum that already excluded a lot of people and to be placed under the roof, the gate quickly climbed to several hundred euros. For those who lived far from the banks of the Seine and had to find accommodation and transport, the evening could quickly exceed 500 euros. “When you’re an NBA fan, you’ve been watching the games at 3 am for years and the NBA is coming to Paris, you want to be part of the party, confirms Bastien Fontanieu, founder of the site Trashtalk. The talk that comes up a lot is that some people are more worth attending than influencers or instagrammers. ”
But the NBA is doing it right. Generating money is in its DNA, but North American basketball is also concerned with its image. In the United States, she is involved in a number of social actions and players like franchises are invited to be zealous in this area. In Paris, this will include opening an NBA House in the Marais, where people can watch the match for free on Friday, play basketball or see former stars, such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The NBA fan, for his part, integrated the physical distance between him and his passion from adolescence. And Bastien Fontanieu to conclude: “As of Saturday, we will return to the NBA routine and say to ourselves:” Well, there is a Pistons-Rockets this evening. “”