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Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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The Big Winner of the NBA Draft: French Media

  • Three French players went in the top six Wednesday night.
  • Top pick Zaccharie Risacher’s first question in an NBA press conference was in French.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN — Zaccharie Risacher is the second straight 19-year-old Frenchman to go first overall in the NBA draft. After making his way to the media room, he sat down for his first press conference as an NBA player, proudly donning his new Atlanta Hawks hat.

The first question wasn’t from ESPN or The Athletic. It came in his native tongue from the French equivalent of the BBC, the state-owned public broadcaster France Télévisions. Risacher gave a lengthy answer entirely in French, and with no translator in sight, U.S. media members had no choice but to sit and wait.

“It’s our own mother tongue, so we’ve gotta impose ourselves,” Clémence Guimier, the Washington, D.C.–based reporter who asked Risacher his first question, told Front Office Sports.

The French have taken the NBA draft by storm. Last year, Victor Wembanyama was the story of the draft; this year, three French players were taken in the top six. Risacher and Alex Sarr went 1–2, the Hornets nabbed Tidjane Salaün at No. 6, and the Knicks took projected draft-and-stash prospect Pacôme Dadiet at No. 25. 

Another, Melvin Ajinça, is projected to go in the second round Thursday. Risacher and Sarr were both asked and answered two questions fully in French during their press conferences. Without a translator around, it was the perfect symbol of the emerging French command at the highest levels of the NBA.

“It’s the second year in a row that we have a French player that ranks first, so it’s quite something to boast about,” Guimier says. “Basketball is such an American sport, so we feel very proud to have French players invading that court that is not ours.”

That outsider feeling isn’t just tangible for the players, but also for the French reporters. Vincent Pialat, a New York–based freelancer who writes about Wembanyama and French basketball players for the newspaper Le Parisien, tells FOS that asking questions in French during NBA press conferences took some getting used to.

“We feel like we don’t really belong there,” Pialat says. “We ask some questions in French, but in the middle of a very American environment, it’s a weird feeling. It’s like we’re foreigners.”

French players are nothing new to the NBA; players like Tony Parker, Rudy Gobert, and Joakim Noah have all had successful careers in the league. But riding the coattails of Wembanyama’s buzzing rookie campaign, French teenagers are making a noticeable splash in not just the NBA, but also the very top of the draft. Before Wembanyama, Dominique Wilkins had been the only French-born player picked in the top 10, and that was in 1982, according to Basketball Reference. That number has sextupled in the last 12 months, with Wemby and No. 7 pick Bilal Coulibaly last year and Risacher, Sarr and Salaün this year. (Previous French top-10 picks Frank Ntilikina and Killian Hayes were born in Belgium and the U.S., respectively.)

“It’s crazy,” Pialat says. “I grew up with only one player playing in the league, Tony Parker, and now we have like 10 or 15.”

Risacher said he is “not shocked” about the number of high French draft picks, adding that he thinks his country is full of talented young players who can take inspiration from his draft class.


Unlike Sarr, who has played in Australia and the U.S. already, Risacher was clearly more comfortable answering questions in French than in English.

Pialat says he asked the player about the thoughts running through his mind before his name was called, and Risacher’s response was far more thorough than any English answer he gave. According to Pialat, Risacher said he didn’t know whether the camera moving his direction meant he would get picked, or if it was finding another shot, and then thought to himself onstage while shaking commissioner Adam Silver’s hand that there’s no going back; he really just became an NBA player.

It leads one to wonder how the Hawks will handle press conferences for their new rookie. Risacher doesn’t seem to need an English-language interpreter (and he appeared quite chipper speaking with reporters), but the level of detail available to French media shouldn’t be overlooked, or quite literally lost in translation. In San Antonio, Pialat says, French reporters get about five minutes set aside at the end of Wembanyama’s press conferences to ask him questions.

“[Risacher’s] English is not perfect. He’s very stressed. … I just talked to his cousin and his father. And he’s very stressed when he has to be under the lights, talking to American people in English after all these emotions,” Pialat says. “In English, it took a lot of time to say a few things. In French, it was more like, 100%. He was delivering. Everything he said was interesting.”

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