Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vučević speak language of basketball

DeRozan, Vučević speak global language of basketball originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

PARIS — Basketball is a global game, whose international growth has been steadily increasing for years and continues to intensify.

From the two-year NBA most valuable player reign of Serbia’s Nikola Jokic, who’s prominently on this season’s ballot alongside Slovenia’s Luka Dončić and Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, to the budding superstar status of French teenager Victor Wembanyama, the game connects the world.

You don’t need to look much past the Chicago Bulls‘ Monday afternoon practice at Palais des sports Marcel-Cerdan to see that.

On one side of the gym sat Bulls center Nikola Vučević, who was born in Switzerland, grew up in Belgium and also lived in Montenegro, telling reporters in which language he feels most proficient.

On another sat DeMar DeRozan, who grew up in Compton, Calif., eloquently detailing what his first trip to Paris meant.

“It’s so many angles of positivity that I look at coming here,” DeRozan said. “To be able to compete and do something in front of a fan base you don’t normally get the chance to do something in front of, I don’t take the opportunity for granted one bit. It’s an experience that lasts a lifetime.”

Like most people in the Bulls’ traveling party, DeRozan and Vučević have family with them on this trip. Vučević, who spent 12 years in Belgium speaking French in school as his father played professional basketball, even joked that reporters ‘persistent questions were keeping him from his father.

In fact, Vučević’s uncle, Savo, is a longtime professional coach in France.

“Paris is obviously a great city, a beautiful city. People here love the game of basketball,” Vučević said. “I have a lot of friends that live here, so they’ve been telling me since the game came out that people are really excited about it and the tickets were gone in a few days. I think there’s going to be a lot of excitement around it.

“It’s great to be here. The Bulls were here in 1997, so for us to come back now is really fun. And for me, it’s really special because my family will come visit from Montenegro and watch me play. A lot of my friends haven’t had a chance to see me play in an NBA game live. So for all those reasons, it will be fun. For me speaking French and knowing a lot of people here, it will be really exciting. Hopefully we can put on a good show for the fans and have some fun as well.”

Growing up internationally, Vučević understands what it’s like mostly to know NBA stars only from afar. That’s why he’s not taking the responsibility of a youth clinic following Wednesday’s practice here for granted.

“The NBA is growing more and more globally. Unfortunately, a lot of kids from the rest of the world don’t get a chance to go to an NBA game or even see an NBA player in person,” Vučević said. “For a lot of people here, kids especially, it will be huge to get a chance to see us. Even if they just run into us around the city, I’m sure they’ll be excited.

“It matters a lot to players too. Growing up, we were fans of the game and had idols and eventually we all got lucky enough to play against some of those and meet them and talk to them. You still get starstruck at times even when you make it to the NBA. So we’re looking forward to the whole experience.”

Vučević joked that he has offered to help his teammates with anything they need here except to be a translator.

“I have my own stuff to do,” he said.

But DeRozan didn’t need a translator when asked what it meant for him to grow up in Compton, where he witnessed plenty of plight, and now be in the “City of Light,” playing on an NBA stage.

“It just shows you how far playing basketball can take you,” he said.

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