PARIS — The Bulls have had their troubles with mediocre to bad teams all year.
Failing to find motivation, falling deep in holes without the time or ability to pull out games. But they know where they are in the standings. They know how much time they have left in the season. And despite a lower-tier opponent, they grasped the gravity of the moment, playing in front of the European crowd at the Accor Arena in Paris.
The end result was a 126-108, wire-to-wire win over the Detroit Pistons.
Had the Bulls lost the game, it would have been a serious problem. With the trade deadline looming just nine games away, they obviously need to get their act together. And though the Pistons may not have been a team to get up for in the United States, the trip to Paris was enough to get more out of the Bulls.
The Bulls had a balanced game starting with Nikola Vucevic (16 points on 19 shots, 15 rebounds, 6 assists), who the team continued to feed early after his career-high matching night almost a week ago. DeMar DeRozan (26 points on 18 shots, 9 rebounds, 5 assists) got back into form after missing three games with a quad injury. Despite a taped-up hand, Zach LaVine (30 points on 20 shots, 5 rebounds and 4 assists) hit big shot after big shot to close out the game.
“I thought tonight was a positive step,” Billy Donovan said.
That’s all there was to it. It wasn’t such a dominant, convincing win that it quelled the concerns about the potential of this group. It solely kicks the conversation down the road until next Monday night, when they resume their schedule with a home game against Atlanta. They need to prove they can do it more than once in a row.
Without any fires that immediately need to be put out, this game was more about the experience and excitement that came along with playing an NBA game in Paris.
There to soak it in was Bulls President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Reinsdorf. He shared the excitement and recognition of the worldwide brand and appeal that is the Chicago Bulls.
“I really do believe that the Chicago Bulls were the first global franchise in sports,” Reinsdorf said. “So to have our first real regular-season game in Europe it does get me excited, and I think the players are excited. It doesn’t feel like your typical regular-season game in mid-January against the Pistons, that’s for sure.’’
Every seat was taken. All 16,000 that filled the stadium cheered after each basket, for both the Bulls and the Pistons. They didn’t care who scored, they were just happy to have an NBA basket, in real life, to see.
It wasn’t just made baskets. Of course, the Zach LaVine and Derrick Jones Jr. dunks went over well. But they even roared when Alex Caruso flew by a Bojan Bogdanovic pump fake. At a random timeout in the fourth quarter, the lights went off and everyone turned their phone flashlights on to blaring music — just stuff you’re probably not seeing at a mid-January game.
The NBA clearly wanted to make a statement in this game and give the fans in Paris the most entertaining version of a mid-January Bulls-Pistons game they possibly could. So, of course, they went wild when Magic Johnson, Joakim Noah, Tony Parker, Ben Wallace, Rip Hamilton and Victor Wembanyama were shown on the Jumbotron. Even Bulls legends Kevin Seraphin and Thabo Sefalosha got love.
Even if the Internet connection wasn’t working, the entertainment value was through the roof. The Bulls clearly wanted to put on a show for those fans— they had seven dunks in the game. Jones Jr. went nuts, with four of his five field goals being dunks. And that only enhanced the experience for the local fans.
“As a Parisian I’m proud to mean something for the league.” Eazy, a French Bulls fan told CHGO. “The hype was huge and well deserved.
“I’m proud to have the Bulls here in Paris and I enjoyed every second of it. We can test our fan base abroad and see how popular Bulls still are. I would be so mad to be on my couch to see this game on TV instead of living it.”
But it wasn’t just the French that showed out. Fans from all over Europe made the pilgrimage.
“It was amazing to get to see the game, and the Bulls didn’t disappoint! It’s a whole different experience to see a game live (and not at 1 or 2 am!)” said Neil, friend of the CHGO Bulls show and UK based Bulls podcaster who came to France to see the game. “To have the opportunity to travel less than two hours to get to see our beloved Bulls play an actual regular season game is truly something to appreciate.”
Overseas fans don’t get enough love for the fact that they wake up in the middle of the night to watch the Bulls and the rest of the NBA. And that commitment is beginning to show it’s fruits in the NBA.
“With the time change, [getting up] at who knows what hours of the morning, flipping on games or taping games, it’s great for people here in Paris to get an up close look at the NBA,” Donovan said after the game. “It makes you realize that the sport is followed so closely around the world.”
It feels great to those fans to get that sense of acknowledgment.
France won the silver medal in the 2020 Olympics. The country has a strong core of talent — Rudy Gobert, Killian Hayes, Evan Fournier, Nicolas Batum. They have the potential next face of the NBA in Wembanyama, whi is the presumed No. 1 pick in this summer’s draft. France is on its way to becoming one of the European powerhouses of basketball
The last four MVPs (Nikola Jokic 2x, Giannis Antetokounmpo 2x) are European. Luka Doncic and Joel Embiid are up next. The NBA and its fans are worldwide.
And whether it’s back in Paris or anywhere else in the world, the NBA is reciprocating.
“I’m definitely coming back to Paris again, maybe for a wine trip,” LaVine said.
Me too, hopefully.