The View From Paris on the NBA Playoffs
“Il y aura au moins un Francaise en finale NBA puisque la finale de la conference Est opposera le Boston de Mickael Pietrus au Miami de Ronny Turiaf. Il y en aura pour-etre trois puisque le vainquerur de cette confrontation pourrait y retrouver les San Antonio Spurs de Tony Parker et Boris Diaw qui afrontent Oklahoma en finale de la conference Ouest.”
I won’t bore you with a full translation, but according to Liberation, the left-leaning local newspaper responsible for the news brief above, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant are mere afterthoughts in the Conference Finals. The real action involves the four French players, who have combined to average 32.2 points per game — take out Parker and it’s 13.2 — just a smidge above what LeBron (29.3 ppg) has done on his own. The only other rightfully myopic view could belong to University of Kansas fans, who have three teams remaining with former players. Go get ‘em, Cole!
Earlier this week, I was still up after a long day at Roland Garros and a longer night at a café (in what I’m told is hipster Paris) with some expats and English-speaking locals when I realized it was nearly time for Game 1 of the Heat-Celtics series to tip. I asked around for where I might find a beer and the game. Paris is notable for many things — museums, boulevards, cheese — and on the alcoholic front, for the fact that you can drink pretty much wherever you want. In the first hours after my arrival, I took a walk along the Canal Saint Martin with a baguette and some Camembert cheese. Beer bottles, more than any other item, bobbed along the canal. One man was guiding his motorized sailboat between the bottles like they were America’s Cup buoys. It was 3 p.m.
The first night I met several locals at the Pont des Arts bridge, where they were surprised to be sent away by a police officer: Apparently, someone had fallen recently, so the bridge, a traditional drinking spot, had become a rare alcohol-free zone in the city. “Can we go down there?” my friends asked, pointing to a promenade below the bridge and along the river. The reply: “Well, no, but there’s no police down there, so that should be fine.” Down there, we watched as a pair of college-age French girls held each other in one hand and in the other held a bottle of what appeared, by coloration and opacity, to be a Continental version of Smirnoff Ice. They tiptoed to the edge of the river’s steep embankment before, thankfully, thinking better of jumping in.
Despite all that, things close early in Paris — at least relative to New York, where I live — and so by the time tip-off arrived, all the cafés and bars where one might find a satellite television package were shut down. I eventually found an illegal feed online, but passed out late in an uninspiring first quarter. Tennis is considered the national sport in France, while, in practice, soccer is the most popular. Basketball is a distant third, at best. Affinity for the sport seems to be largely broken down along racial lines; I briefly watched a pickup game in a mostly white neighborhood being played entirely by black Parisians. It was dominated by one guy in a Celtics jersey, the only such shirt I’ve seen here. Bulls jerseys are everywhere on black teens; they probably like Derrick Rose, but love Joakim Noah, son of Yannick, the last French player to win at Roland Garros. (Indeed, the last French tennis player to win any of the Slams.) Fandom for American teams in France seems to be based less on anything that happens on the court than on random cultural preferences. On my flight over, I sat next to a German student who wore a Brooklyn Nets jersey. He didn’t know who Brook Lopez was, but said he liked Jay-Z.