Giannis Antetokounmpo delighted a sold-out Paris crowd with 30 points and 16 rebounds to lead the Milwaukee Bucks over the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 Friday in the first-ever NBA regular-season game in the French capital.
The game had a party feel with Paris Saint-Germain football stars Neymar and Kylian Mbappe courtside and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was greeted with thunderous applause when he was presented to the crowd at the AccorHotels Arena.
Michael Jordan, the greatest-ever NBA player who is now the Hornets’ chairman, has done more than anyone to spread the sport’s popularity around the globe and he told reporters before the game: “I’m glad that I was a part of it but I think it will continually get bigger because of the passion for the game of basketball.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said before the game that the NBA would return to Paris for “many more years to come”.
The Bucks were sluggish in the first half and trailed the Hornets until the end of the third quarter, when George Hill slashed to the basket for an easy layup and reigning league Most Valuable Player Antetokounmpo imposed himself around the rim on the way to his impressive double-double.
Malik Monk top-scored for the Hornets with 31 points but the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks just had too many weapons and Antetokounmpo’s powerful dunk with five minutes remaining was the sign that the game was effectively over as a contest.
After a quiet start, the Greek playmaker, who will again captain against LeBron James in the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, burst into life in the second quarter when he wrestled the ball from Cody Zeller and reverse-slammed over the hapless Hornet.
Antetokounmpo said the journey to Europe had taken its toll in the early stages.
“We didn’t a play for four days, but that’s no excuse,” he said. “We started the game and we weren’t playing the basketball we usually play. Hopefully we can learn from this today and learn that they are not just going to give us the game, we have to fight for it.
He said the atmosphere in the Paris arena had been “amazing”, adding: “It felt for everybody like we were playing at home.”
Experienced Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe supplied the ammunition for Antetokounmpo and finished with 20 points himself.
Nicolas Batum, the French national team captain whose presence in the Charlotte lineup helped ensure their involvement in this history-making game, had a quiet night with only five points but his every move was cheered loudly by his compatriots.