Last week, Thursday, February 19, the NBA played a regular season game in France, its first on European soil since 2020. The game between the Chicago Bulls and the Detroit Pistons was the culmination of a thoroughly integrated basketball week in Paris. with open practices and great media availability.
I flew from Copenhagen to be there and these are my observations over the course of Wednesday and Thursday.
On Wednesday, both the Pistons and Bulls trained at the Palais des Sports Marcel-Cerdan, home of the Metropolitans 92 and, more importantly, Victor Wembanyama.
The media coverage was immense as the NBA Paris Game gained worldwide traction. It was virtually impossible not to end up in media swarms when players had the ability to speak to media.
For the few hundred children sitting in the stands above the courthouse, away from journalists and broadcasters, there was always something to watch out for.
When it wasn’t Andre Drummond and Tony Bradley going one-on-one for nearly 20 minutes, it was Zach LaVine and Ayo Dosunmu who entered an impromptu half-court shooting contest.
LaVine hit a casual try that got the young audience buzzing. Dosunmu decided to try his luck at hitting, and now the children were on their feet and screaming. LaVine, who sat down after his make, didn’t want to let Dosunmu overwhelm him and jumped up to get another shot. The playfulness of the two bulls was well received by the children, and as it turned out, it was just a preview of what was to come.
From a media point of view, you could see that the NBA had relaxed some rules. Bloggers and online influencers walked in in team attire and asked for selfies, a common league no-no for media members. It was quickly realized that the protocols of the Paris game were very different from regular games in the United States, and that was probably a good thing for what the league was trying to do to keep fans interested and the city interested wake up.
In general, the presence of the NBA was everywhere just walking through Paris. They’ve rarely walked more than a hundred yards without seeing physical posters or digital ads at bus stops for the upcoming game. Some local supermarkets even had posters near their checkouts.
Thursday, match day, unfortunately coincided with a strike that severely restricted both bus and tube access. Heavy rain followed. One might fear that this might have affected voter turnout, but there was no way it was going to happen.
As I was looking for the media entrance at the Accor Arena, the venue for the game, I was waved at by six people asking if I had tickets. Normally in the States you will be asked if you need tickets. Not the other way around.
(Side note: it would be a good idea for the NBA to include media access instructions for the next game in Europe. Walking around in public and flashing a big media badge sign just to get directions to the right entrance wasn’t just about perfect.)
Before the game, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver held a press conference during which he revealed that Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo had personally asked him to bring the league to Greece for a game that is now on the horizon for the near future seems to be. This was apparently Silver’s way of teasing a future announcement given how closed off he is usually about the future.
The actual game itself was an immersive experience for the fans. While the Bulls and Pistons aren’t exactly elite teams, they put on a show. You could tell the players were ready to play in front of an international crowd.
Derrick Jones Jr. and Zach LaVine both took special care of their dunks, and local hero Killian Hayes made several no-look passes. Both teams, as the kids say, understood the task.
Additionally, the league went all out with Joakim Noah, Tony Parker, Magic Johnson, Ben Wallace and a host of legends and former players speaking out during the time-outs, much to the delight of the crowd.
One of the biggest roars of the night came as the cameras captured Wembanyama, with a small segment of the scattered fans even standing up to celebrate the teenager.
By the end of the game, the fans didn’t seem too keen on leaving. People just stood around, took photos, talked and generally enjoyed the atmosphere that the NBA had brought to Paris.
It didn’t matter that the clock was approaching midnight and many small children had school in the morning. This was clearly an experience where parents made an exception to immerse them in every ounce of the NBA experience.
I spent almost 90 minutes in the tunnel chatting to other members of the media and listening to players talk about their visit. I expected some empty streets on my way out but the party continued as I left to return to my hotel.
On my 20-minute walk, despite the late hour, fans in NBA jerseys just hung around, mimicking dunks from the game, and talking about how they’d seen Magic Johnson.
There was certainly a fuss about the NBA’s presence in Paris, which was undoubtedly the league’s goal with this event.