French connection for Nikola Vucevic as Bulls prepare for Paris Game

PARIS – It’s no longer Nikola Vucevic’s “No. 1 language,” but the Bulls big man was still proficient in speaking French.

Make no mistake about it, though, when it comes to on-the-court cursing that’s where Vucevic’s Serbian still reigns supreme.

“Oh, all Serbian,” Vucevic responded, when asked what his language of choice is when he needs to fire one off without NBA officials knowing. “In Serbia, we have some intense curse words.”

Just don’t ask him to play translator this week.

While Vucevic told his Bulls teammates that he will help with “accommodations and stuff,” he warned them to figure out the language themselves.

“It’s Paris. It’s a big city. Everybody knows it,” Vucevic said. “I just told them I will not be a translator. I don’t care. I know French but I will not be a translator. I have my own sh– to do, sorry, stuff to do.”

That he does, and no apology needed.

The NBA Paris Game 2023 has personal meaning for Vucevic. Living in Belgium for 12 years when he was younger, and learning the French culture and language, how could it not? That’s why he’s so excited about the Thursday game with the Pistons.

He still has friends that live in Paris, an uncle – Savo – who coaches in France, and he has family coming from Montenegro. None of which have ever seen him play live in an NBA game. But it’s more than just Vucevic needing to hoard as many tickets as possible leading up to tip-off.

It’s what the NBA playing in another country does for the culture. The Bulls last played in Paris in the 1997 “McDonald’s Open Final.” Vucevic was seven then, and recalled that year vividly. Just the idea of an NBA team coming overseas was impactful.

In his mind, it was impactful then and it still is now.

“It’s very important,” Vucevic said. “Obviously, 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. 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 star-struck at times even when you make it to the NBA. So we’re looking forward to it.”

And the timing couldn’t be better.

The tickets for the Bulls-Pistons game sold out almost immediately, with Paris currently in an NBA frenzy thanks to top prospect Victor Wembanyama. The 7-foot-2, 19-year-old is not only considered the most talented player to come out of France, but NBA scouts have tabbed him as a potential generational player that could turn an organization’s fortunes around almost immediately.

“That’s how it starts,” Vucevic pointed out. “You had Tony Parker and Boris Diaw [from France], and the younger generation after them, [Nicolas] Batum and Evan Fournier, all those guys. With Victor, he’s a one of a kind player and one of the biggest prospects the NBA has ever seen. So I’m sure once he gets to the NBA, I’m sure there will be even more buzz and people will talk about it even more.

“The more good players you have that go to the highest level and play from your country, the more interest people will have in it. I was just here in September and just walking around the city, you can tell people really love the game. It’s a great place to have a global game here by the NBA.”

No translation needed.

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