On Thursday, for the first time since 2020 and the 12th time in its history, the NBA will play a game in France when the Chicago Bulls take on the Detroit Pistons from Paris’ Accor Arena. It will also be the league’s 94th game in Europe — the most for any region outside North America.
The anticipation has been immense — but it’s everything that will happen for basketball in France after the game that everyone is waiting for.
That’s because generational prospect Victor Wembanyama could become the first French player to be selected first overall in the upcoming 2023 NBA Draft.
“I’m expecting his impact on the game of basketball, the NBA, and the fandom in France to be significant,” the NBA’s head of fan engagement and DTC for Europe and the Middle East George Aivazoglou told Front Office Sports. “We expect to see an acceleration in terms of fandom, followers, and, of course, the commercial KPIs that usually follow a player who performs at that level — if he performs at the expected level.”
The league has already made efforts to showcase Wembanyama in the United States by streaming all of his 2022-23 French league games through its official app — but the 19-year-old sensation’s immense impact will build on an already burgeoning basketball fanbase in Europe.
- Tickets to the 2023 Paris Game sold out in a matter of minutes, per the NBA.
- The league has made games easier to watch than ever through partnerships with local and regional partners across the continent and access for fans to NBA League Pass.
- Many European players are the “protagonists” of their teams, as Aivazoglou puts it, which makes it easier for European fans to invest their attention.
Greece’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019, 2020) and Serbia’s Nikola Jokic (2021, 2022) have won the last four NBA MVP awards. Jokic (+115) and Slovenia’s Luka Doncic (+275) are the current betting favorites to win the award in 2023.
These uniquely skilled players, Wembanyama included, are helping to dictate how the modern game is played — turning them into superstars.
“I think it’s the evolution of the game of basketball itself,” says Aivazoglou. “Faster pace, a lot more shooting, a lot of emphasis on offensive plays. And some of these players that come from these markets, they have the physical and technical skills, and the talent, to really stand out.”
But Wembanyama isn’t the only draw to France for basketball fans. Paris will host the 2024 Summer Olympics, bringing the extremely popular Olympic men’s basketball tournament.
The NBA is preparing for the inevitable marketing opportunity.
“It’s very likely that we want to be present again, both potentially with another game in Paris, and then maybe with a series of fan events underpinning that game as part of our regular-season Global Games,” Aivazoglou says. “But also experiential presence with fan events happening during the summer.”
The league is still finalizing its plans in France for next year, but for now, it will simply be content to put on the best show possible Thursday in Paris.