There’s a lot to be said about sport diplomacy, and hoops diplomacy has often gotten short shift. But in many ways, basketball is a sport primed for this prism.
One of my favorite stories in my work on the evolution of French basketball, transatlantic hoops influences, and the globalization of the game is that of Martin Feinberg and the alumni of Paris Université Club's two U.S. tours in 1955-56 and 1962.
Now, the origins of that story is available via The Athletic.
"Tonight, I want us to be remembered by all the French people who are watching," France's Paul Pogba urged his teammates, "by their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren, too."
The stirring locker room pep talk before the recent World Cup final served as a rallying cry for Les Bleus'4-2 win over Croatia, a victory that won more than just a second star for their collection.
The nationwide celebration unleashed that night capped more than two months of speculation over France's fate in Russia and the inevitable comparisons to the nation's 1998 World Cup-winning team. But following the July 16 victory parade and ceremonies, the French Football Federation (FFF) reminded people that, "after Russia, the next one is at our [house]."
After France won the World Cup, Les Bleus fans, including some of the country’s NBA players congratulated the new champions on social media. The Charlotte Hornets’ Nicolas Batum, whose Twitter match commentary tracked the final’s ups and downs, chirped his solidarity and shared images of celebrations in Paris, from the Champs Élysées to the Tour Eiffel. Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, recently traded from Philadelphia to Oklahoma City, photographed his support and joy, while the Knicks’ “French Prince,” Frank Ntilikina, starred in the team’s gleeful World Cup tributes.
France and Belgium have clashed on the field for more than 120 years, but on Tuesday, in the World Cup semifinal in Saint Petersburg, the stakes will be higher than ever before. Men who usually play side-by-side as professional teammates will instead be pitted against each other as internationals for one night. Then there’s the fact that Les Diables Rouges’ assistant coach Thierry Henry is one of France’s heroes of 1998 (alongside French head coach Didier Deschamps), infusing the match with additional tension as two veterans of the famous black-blanc-beur team square off on the touchline. Yet, for all that Titi has given Belgium—including a “taste for the attack,” in the words of French Football Federation president Noël Le Graët—France and Deschamps retain an advantage: the children of 1998.
France nearly stumbled against Australia, leading some people to worry that a terrifically gifted team might not fulfill its potential at In Russia. But in another regard, France is clearly dominating this World Cup regardless of on-pitch results. Some 52 players across five teams at the tournament in Russia are French-born, and nearly a third of them come from Paris and its surrounding suburbs. What some call the greatest concentration of soccer talent in Europehas become a strong quadrennial presence. Since 2002, France has supplied more players and coaches for World Cup rosters—218 in total—than any other country, according to RunRepeat. As a result, the country’s soccer influence extends well beyond its own 23-man squad.