Victor Wembanyama‘s overwhelming popularity is creating a lot of new basketball fans in France, writes Sam Borden of ESPN. Borden notes that it has long been a “niche sport,” far behind soccer in the French sporting landscape, but Wembanyama has been drawing massive crowds, especially as his time in the French league nears its end.
Nearly 16,000 people attended his most recent game in Accor Arena — the largest venue in Paris, which has been hosting Metropolitans 92 games in light of Wembanyama’s celebrity status — and tickets were selling for hundreds of dollars on the resale market. The Wembanyama phenomenon figures to create a huge crop of new NBA fans in France when he begins playing for the Spurs in the fall.
“We’ve had this traditional setup in France — you are going to play the sport your dad played, or the sport he watches,” said Maxime Raynaud, who plays at Stanford. “And so for the past 100 years, everyone just picked up a soccer ball. Now, we have access to basketball. We have role models for basketball. And Victor is going to be the face of that.”
Wembanyama has a crucial playoff game today as his team’s best-of-three series with Cholet is tied at 1-1. Beyond winning an LNB Pro A title and making an impact in the NBA, he has his eyes on the 2024 Olympics, which will take place in Paris.
“My goal,” he said, “is to beat Team USA in the final.”
There’s more international news to pass along:
- After officially signing with G League Ignite, Thierry Darlan hopes to prove that Africa can produce NBA-level guards as well as big men, per Marc J. Spears of Andscape. Darlan hails from the Central African Republic and graduated from the NBA Academy Africa. “When they talk about basketball in Africa, they always talk about the center, the big,” Darlan said. “It’s a big challenge to change that to talking about (a) point guard. In Africa, we’re not just known to run the floor and get rebounds. We can do many things, too. We can pass the ball. Create for others. That is my mission to show that African players can do more.”
- Lakers guard Dennis Schröder, who is entering free agency, said he plans to play for Germany this summer in the FIBA World Cup, tweets Dave McMenamin of ESPN.
- Hall of Famer Yao Ming has stepped down as head of the Chinese Basketball Association, according to an Associated Press report. No official explanation was given, but the league has been plagued by allegations of corruption, including match fixing.