25 November 2011
When I mentioned to Nicolas Batum back in September at EuroBasket in Lithuania that I wanted to make the five hour drive from Nuremberg, Germany to Nancy, France to work on a story later in the year, I knew it would be a worthwhile trip.
Getting the chance to see Batum play in his native France was eye opening for reasons about basketball, but also about the places life takes us as people and allows us to hit pause, reflect and be thankful. He never thought he'd be back in France playing at this point in his career. And I certainly couldn't even fathom the day I would be living in Europe cover basketball, let alone catching up with a guy that I've covered in the NBA since he arrived in Portland as a rookie in 2008.
I will never forget seeing Batum that first season in the Blazers locker room. His locker was positioned right next to LaMarcus Aldridge's. After one home game where Aldridge flashed skills that included a hard earned double-double on the night, the local media flooded Aldridge's locker stall during a long postgame interview session which obviously flowed into Batum's space as he got dressed.
As Aldridge lit up for the cameras and questions flew from all directions, there was young barefoot Batum softly and respectfully asking one reporter if he could have his shoes, which were being stepped on under the foot of the media scrum.
Two stalls down you could hear then-Blazer Channing Frye offer some words of wisdom to the rookie.
"Don't ask him, you tell him....you have to speak up Nic."
Four years later Batum speaks up loud and clear and shared with me about how he is growing as a player and person playing back home in Nancy and for the French National Team.
That story is running today in The Oregonian - "Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum expands his game in France" :
"People have shown me respect -- the coaches, the players, the refs. I've gone through some great experiences this summer with the national team and now here. When the game is on the line I want the ball. The game is in my hands. That is very good for me.
"This is different because this is my team."
Simply put, Batum is back home and - while no one is happy about the present state of the NBA lockout - he is loving this moment for endless reasons. And it's great to see him run the point-forward spot and control the flow of the game. It's something I hope the Blazers will mix in to their offense going forward.
Then there is the being at home with his family part. Don't be mistaken. That is huge, along with some other overseas perks.
"They (the team) pay for the apartment. They pay for my car. That’s the best thing about playing in Europe. They pay for everything," said Batum, who lives a five minute commute from Palais des Sports Jean Weille.
I will have more next week on Batum with an interview I conducted with Nancy head coach Jean-Luc Monschau, who not only raved about Batum and also made a plea for the coaching staff ("they don't ask him to do these things") and fan base in Portland ("I hope he stays here and we can keep him"), but held back his laughter when I told him I couldn't speak French or German.
At his age and expanding game style, who wouldn't want Batum on their team.
I will also say this: once this whole lockout is resolved and Batum returns to Portland (sorry Jean-Luc), Rip City and the rest of the league will see a new Nicolas Batum -- a Batum who will start to call the Blazers "his team" and for good reason. And people in Portland will love it.
Just make sure you don't step on his shoes.
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