Charlotte Hornets going international for a game against Milwaukee Bucks

Charlotte Hornets to play in Paris

Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield on NBA selecting them to play in Paris vs. Milwaukee Bucks
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Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield on NBA selecting them to play in Paris vs. Milwaukee Bucks

The Charlotte Hornets will get some international exposure next January, thanks to their French connections.

The tradeoff is they will lose a home game on the 2019-20 schedule featuring Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The NBA announced Thursday that the Hornets and Bucks will play a regular-season game Jan. 24 at Paris’ AccorHotels Arena. It will be the first regular-season NBA game in France, following numerous preseason exhibitions there in the past.

When the NBA started discussions about holding such a game in Paris, the Hornets were an obvious candidate. Charlotte has two of the nine French players in the NBA: point guard Tony Parker and guard-forward Nic Batum. Parker, in his first season with the Hornets, is the most accomplished NBA player in French basketball history, having won four championships with the San Antonio Spurs.

The Bucks also have special appeal in Europe, with NBA Most Valuable Player candidate Antetokounmpo’s Greek heritage.

The NBA has long played preseason exhibitions outside the United States and Canada, including the Hornets’ two-game trip to China in the fall of 2015 to play the Los Angeles Clippers. The league is increasingly scheduling regular-season games internationally: the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards played in London in January. The Orlando Magic played games in Mexico City in December against the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz.

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Hornets President Fred Whtfield said the game in Paris would be designated a “home” game, so there will be 40, rather than 41, regular-season games at Spectrum Center next season. Antetokoumpo is one of the NBA’s top players, so he tends to draw a big following on the road. The Bucks are expected to play one game in Charlotte next season, in addition to that game in Paris.

Batum is under contract to the Hornets the next two seasons. Parker is under contract for next season, but at 36, it’s unclear whether he would return for what would be his 19th NBA season in 2019-20. Parker was excused from Hornets practice Thursday to attend former teammate Manu Ginobili’s jersey retirement in San Antonio.

Batum said he’s thrilled the Hornets will play in the first regular-season game in France. The first NBA game he saw in person was in Paris, a 2004 exhibition between the Spurs and the Memphis Grizzlies.

“The excitement of the city, the excitement of the people, was huge!” Batum recalled. “When it was announced (early Thursday morning in Paris) I was sleeping and my phone just blew up over this game.”

Expect the NBA to build some days off into the Hornets’ and Bucks’ January schedule to account for the trans-Atlantic flights and the appearances the NBA will ask the teams to make in Paris. For instance, this season, the Knicks and Wizards had three days off each before and after the game in London.

“There will be a lot of coordination between the league and both teams to make sure that our players get sufficient rest going over and coming back,” Whitfield said of his discussions with the NBA.

Rick Bonnell is a sportswriter/columnist for the Charlotte Observer. He has been in Charlotte since 1988, when the NBA arrived, and has covered the Hornets continuously. A former president of the Pro Basketball Writers Association, Bonnell also writes occasionally on the NFL and college sports.