CHICAGO — A professional basketball game was played at the United Center on Friday night between the Chicago Bulls and the Charlotte Hornets. The Bulls won, 102-97. Hornets forward Nicolas Batum had his best game of the season, scoring 28 points along with eight rebounds, two assists and two steals while shooting 5-of-6 from the three-point line.
But on this particular night, those details could not have been less important.
Batum heard the explosion on television while watching a friendly soccer match between Germany and his native France. His sister lives close by the stadium in Paris, so he immediately texted her to make sure she was OK. She was.
Over the next few hours, things got worse. More attacks, reports of hostages and a death toll in the triple digits.
“Until the last minute before I got to the game I was on my phone,” Batum said in the Hornets’ locker room after the game. “My sister lives close by where one of the attacks happened. I have family over there, I have friends over there, and the first thing I did after I came back in the locker room [after the game] was check my phone again to see if everything’s still good. So it was a tough day. It’s still a tough day for us.”
Needless to say, basketball was a secondary concern for Batum. But because he couldn’t be there, he decided to use his performance as a way of making his family proud.
“I thought about it all game,” Batum said. “I wanted to have a good game, to show them in my way that we’re strong.”
Batum wasn’t the only one on the United Center court who was preoccupied. Bulls center Joakim Noah is also a French citizen and has family in Paris. Like Batum, he spent the hours leading up to the game making sure his family was safe. And when they crossed paths on the court, the first thing they did was ask each other if their families were OK.
Fortunately, they all were fine.
“I’m not sure [what happened],” Noah said. “I just know it’s very, very sad what’s going on in Paris. A lot of people died for no reason. We’re not really sure exactly what happened.”
As fortunate as Batum is that none of his loved ones were hurt in the attacks, the scope and impact of the tragedy on his home country is not lost on him.
“I had a chance to make sure [my family] are all OK, but some people right now are not because they lost somebody. For nothing. People were out watching a soccer game or at a concert or a restaurant having dinner.
"I talked to my sister and some friends. Everybody’s all right, but we’re shocked. They told me Paris is like a war outside. Everybody’s outside. Police. The army is outside. It’s difficult because I’m watching the numbers and before the game it said only 40 people were killed and then after the game it was more like 120. It was a sad day for us, but like I said, we’re strong and we’re tough, and we’re going to be all right. We’ll stay strong.”
The attacks were on the minds of the rest of the players, as well.
“Obviously, you try to focus in and do what you have to do,” Pau Gasol said. “But at the same time your mind…it’s there. Your heart is there and you see it and you know there are a lot of people are suffering at this moment. A lot of people died and just overall devastating news. Hopefully at one point this kind of attacks stop. It’s just not human. Not fair.”
In the coming days, there will be more clarity about what took place in Paris on Friday. For now, all Batum can do is keep doing his job as a show of solidarity.
“I’m fine,” Batum said. “But I’m also not because we lost people for nothing, because of stupid people. We’ve got to stay strong. We’ve got to show them, like I tried tonight, through my way that we’re strong and we won’t step down because you’re doing bad stuff to people.
“We’re going to cry for our people we lost tonight, but we’re going to stay strong, keep our heads up and keep moving forward and show that we’re better than them.”