Last week I was lucky enough to secure a ticket to go and watch Giannis Antetokounmpo and his league leading Milwaukee Bucks take on Nicolas Batum and the Charlotte Hornets in his Native France. I hopped on a plane at Manchester Airport and spent the weekend immersed in NBA basketball in the French Capital.
Why did the NBA play a regular season game in Paris?
France is basketball mad! You can already see this by the amount of French NBA players and the recent success of the national team (Winning EuroBasket in 2013).
In his pre-game press conference, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver described France as “one of the best basketball markets in the world”, He also repeated what he had told the media the day before when he had said that the NBA would indeed be coming back to Paris next year. “Two different teams, but next January we’ll be back at this terrific arena, and I can tell you we’re already oversubscribed from our NBA teams. These guys have already volunteered to come back, and like I said, it’s two other teams’ turn.”
The Hornets are of course owned by Michael Jordan, the same Michael Jordan who owns Brand Jordan, who incidentally sponsor the local Football powerhouse Paris St Germain. PSG took the opportunity of Jordan and the Hornets being in town to launch their new Jordan 4th Kit.
Pre-Game – NBA House Paris
The NBA really pulled out all the stops for their first ever competitive game in France. This included opening the NBA House in the super cool Marais district, just around the corner from the Supreme Paris store and Nike Lab, the NBA House was held in Halle des Blancs Manteaux. To gain entry all you had to do was sign up via the NBA.com site. Once inside visitors were treated to the full NBA experience including sponsored games that included ball handling and shooting, NBA 2K gaming zone and sneaker customisation courtesy of Footlocker. I even manged to flash my own ball handling skills and bag myself a pretty handy mobile phone battery pack thanks to Parion Sports, unfortunately my shooting wasn’t as hot as I had a torrid time on pop-a-shot!
The main draw in NBA House, however, was the half court set up in the middle of the decorative old hall. With a full-size basket and extending out to the half way line the court played host to dunking, shooting and freestyle displays as well as hosting influencers and NBA Legends including Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Dikembe Mutumbo, Mugsy Bogues and Dell Curry. Most impressive of all was Dikembe conducting his whole interview in French keeping the locals in rapture of his towering presence!
Pre-Game in the arena:
The game was held in the AccorHotels Arena, The arena is in Bercy which is in the 12th arrondissement of Paris, and was a very short ride on the Metro from our hotel in the centre of Paris. You could really feel the excitement pre-game with a carnival atmos[here outside the arena and the French Fans desperate to take their seats. I am afraid to say that the pre-game atmosphere was more electric that any I had experienced at any of the NBA London games.
Just before tip-off the NBA paid their respects to the late David Stern with a moment of silence and reflection for the late great NBA commissioner. It was a poignant and beautiful moment for the man responsible for the NBA global growth, I read later that David and his wife had made their preparations to travel to France and it was a real shame that he was not in attendance to see the continued global growth of the league he helped shape.
French National Anthem
As at all the NBA game the National Anthem of the United States was sung before the game. However as we were in Paris, the French National Anthem ‘La Maseillaise’ was also performed. This is where it got interesting as the choice for this honour was Parisian guitarist ‘Waxx’, Check out the video below to see the performance for yourself!
The loudest cheer of the night however was reserved for French Icon and Ex-Hornet Tony Parker, who was introduced to the crowd to rapturous applause from the locals.
After much anticipation the game finally tipped off at 9pm Local time, and the Hornets came racing out of the gate! Terry Rozier banked in the first points of the games and this was followed by 2 threes from Devonte Graham and another from Rozier before Mike Budenholzer called the first time out of the game with the Bucks down 4-12. The rest of the 1st quarter saw the teams trading buckets until the end of the quarter saw the Hornets leading 31-24.
The stand out player was of course, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, it was amazing to see in person just how big and graceful he is. He ended up scoring 30 points overall and wowed with a variety of dunks and tip ins. The Hornets big men having no answer for his physical presence down low, he of course didn’t miss his que taking the opportunity to also show up his Euro step while in Europe.
The Hornets managed to hold onto the lead at the break, led by 14 points from Substitute Malik Monk, who also delivered a wicked block to Ersan Ilysova with only 25 seconds left in the half.
I had arrived at the arena wanting to play close attention to not only Giannis but also 2nd year Hornets guard Devonte Graham. After Kemba Walkers departure, Graham has surprised the whole NBA this season with his steady play at the point guard position and I wasn’t disappointed as he controlled the play excellently in the first half. However two players who really stood out that I wasn’t expecting were Marvin Williams on the Hornets and Donte DiVincenzo on the Bucks. Neither lit up the box score with 18 points and 6 rebounds for Williams and only 8 points and 7 rebounds for DiVincenzo but both were palpable game changers when they were on court, there hustle and energy was infectious and both seem to always be in the right place when they did get on the court.
Despite 31 points from Malik Monk the Hornets couldn’t stop the inevitable. In the 4th quarter the Bucks really turned up the heat, outscoring the Hornets 38-25 in the final frame to easily canter to a 116-103 victory by the nights end. The best team in the NBA continued with their dominance winning their eight consecutive game and leaving Paris with the NBAs best record at 40-6. After the game Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe meet with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and the Bucks were visited by PSG superstars Neymar Jr. and Kylian Mbappe.
Will there be an NBA Paris Game in 2021?
Before the game the NBA commissioner Adam Silver confirmed that the NBA will return in the 2021 season to play another game in Paris, however teams have not yet been announced if you fancied getting yourself over to Paris for the game next year sign up now at the NBA site:
Where are the best Basketball shops in Paris?
While in Paris I also took the opportunity to visit some of the best basketball shops in Europe. France has a dedicated and passionate basketball following and this was reflected in the amazing basketball stores that they have.
Shinzo Basketball Shop
The first store I visited was Shinzo Basketball. Shinzo has 7 different stores on Rue Étienne Marcel. I didn’t realise they were such a big operation and so followed my phone to Shinzo Action sports. This was a standard looking sports shop and I left disappointed and confused as this was not what I was expecting. However we walked away in the search of coffee and thankfully stumbled across the real deal. Shinzo Basketball, on the same street as the action sports shop but up the road at number 25 we found a palace of Basketball retail. Two floors dedicated to NBA, the outside facia of the shop was adorned with MJ, Bird, Lebron, Kobe and Magic. The ground floor has all the latest NBA gear, including swingman jerseys and all the latest performance shoes, The choice is absolutely staggering and puts anything I have ever seen in the UK to shame. However the real magic happens on the second floor, as your walk up the stairs you are surrounded by glass cases all proudly displaying NBA history, then you are met by a Yo Sushi style carousel displaying Mitchell and Ness throwbacks and classic Jordan footwear silhouettes. The windows are covered in endless choices from the Jordan retro line and best of all, the majority are available to buy and all at retail prices, No inflated consignment pricing here!
After marvelling at all the amazing product in Shinzo Basketball we walked further down the street to discover that 2 doors down they had a concept store! Due to the NBA game that evening it had been transformed into a space dedicated to Basketball. They had custom AF1s in Bucks and hornets colourways, amazing full tracksuits crafted from either Hornets or Bucks jerseys and limited Shinzo game balls again in either Hornets or Bucks colourways, the balls were housed in an amazing wall display, that looked like a giant vending machine and you had to win on a computer game just for the chance to purchase one.
Opium Basketball Shop
Just around the corner from Shinzo on Rue Pierre Lescot, is Opium. They have two stores next to each other. One is more streetwear focused, however next to that is their basketball store. Its smaller than Shinzo with more of a footwear focus, but the vintage Jordan collection around the top of the store is a sight to behold. The store staff here were super nice, we must have chatted about kicks and basketball for over 30 minutes and I was very excited to walk away with a pair of Jordan 3 animal instincts!
Pigalle Basketball Shop
Even if you have never heard of Pigalle, I bet you have seen their court! One of the most famous courts on Instagram we made the pilgrimage to 17 Rue Duperré to finally get some shots up on this famous court and check out there shop.
As we were walking towards to the court we saw the first Pigalle shop. Its only a small space but the Pigalle brand clothing is beautiful (Unfortunately it has a price tag to match!) They still had the ball and a few bits from their 2017 capsule. The ball is a piece of art, but again all these pieces were way out of my price range. We headed towards the court and the basketball store. The sense of anticaption on heading upto the court was unbelievable, I have seen so many pictures I kind of knew what I was looking for, and this added to the thrill of looking for this hidden gem. Finally, we found it. The court was as I expected, full of ball players just 30 minutes after opening. Games in full swing on both ends. The colours really popped, and I was thrilled to finally be there in person. The only disappointment of the trip was that the basketball store opposite was shut. We spoke with some of the locals and they had no idea why the shutters were down. It was supposed to be open but they obviously had other ideas. We went decided to stay locally and grab a crepe for lunch, however after returning 45 minutes later the shop was still shut. Never mind, it just means we will have to come back again next year!