NBA. The Sarthois has already succeeded in his first year in America. Next step: the playoffs, in which Portland has every chance of competing.
The kid from Le Mans is no longer a child. Nicolas Batum has become a man. His goal is made up of three letters: NBA. An acronym which, for the occasion, could be turned into: Nicolas Batum Adult. Portland’s #88 quickly learned that the North American league was "a business. You have to be ready for everything."
During the draft in June, Houston offered him a Rockets baseball cap, which he had to exchange a quarter hour later for a Trail Blazers cap. The young Nicolas was disgusted. At the start of the season, Portland’s coach promised him a starting position. He began the season on the bench. Oops! Batum has had to put his feelings aside.
He's a quick learner. The proof: In February, he wasn’t even surprised when he discovered that Portland management, though satisfied with his performance, negotiated with his knowing a possible trade to Charlotte.
Head of family
Batum is aware that he is but a pawn in an NBA galaxy in which he has discovered its enormity and rigor. Fortunately, his lucky star is on the watch.
With Martell Webster injured, the ex-Manceau replaced him in the starting five that he has only left twice (last week, because of a problem with his left ankle). "I am aware that it has helped me" he admitted. Playing so much at 20 years old in the NBA isn’t so common. "It reminds me a bit of Tony Parker," added his old associate, now the coach of Le Mans, JD Jackson.
The comparison is flattering. And a bit false. Parker developed at a position, that of point guard, where the responsibilities are more important. He took advantage of this exposure to rise very quickly. Batum, even if he has already crossed the 15-point mark six times, his foremost a defender in Portland. He knows it.
His case is thus more similar to a Boris Diaw, with a major difference: Batum is progressing in a competitive team. Ten days from the end of the regular season, the Blazers only have one game to win to reach the playoffs. Or wait for a faux pas from Phoenix, the only team still capable of denying them the final phase of the season.
"It will still be close the last week" predicted Batum. The Blazers will have to battle to the end in order to clinch a 4th place synonymous with home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. "Batman" (one of his nicknames) will therefore play a little more in his new town, in which he with his mother and sister. Adult, yes. Solitary, no. If Batum has metamorphosed, he holds on to his cocoon. His arrival in the NBA also allowed for a suppressed familial trauma to be reexamined.
In June, he affirmed, during medical tests, that his father, who he barely knew, died on the court from a heart attack. NBA teams panicked, his stock fell. The truth was reestablished (it was an aneurysm) and the incident was resolved. A silence of 18 years with his mother was broken. Without wanting to give him so much responsibility at a young age, she passed on to him the torch of the head of the family. Whether it's regarding an orange ball or his family life, Nicolas Batum has grown up. His development has yet to reach its peak.
Batum was also featured in an episode of Intérieur Sport (an "Outside the Lines" type of program). With many thanks to raph from the MSB forums for the upload, here's the link (in French). To briefly summarize it (keep in mind I had a hard time understanding Batum, there were some parts where I had no idea what he was saying):
- As a kid, Batum was always around his father's team, he was "the mascot of the club"
- talking about the history of his father dying of a heart attack on the court
- the test raising concerns that he had heart problems before the draft
- Batum had never really heard the full story before
- in the end, nothing wrong
- this program estimates that Batum lost 4-6 million dollars because of his slide in the draft
- Batum practically lived at the practice facility over the summer
- starter... was dreaming all week, telling himself that at 19 years old, first game would be against Kobe
- was pissed off after not starting, turned his back to the coach
- he's made a list of all the "stars" whose shots he's blocked... Prince, Chris Paul, Parker, Duncan, Allen Pearce, Shaq, Nash, Iverson, Wade...
- his salary in Portland is 12 times bigger than it was in Le Mans
- talking about the rookie handbook, which tells you how to do everything (eg. how to hold a fork)
- they even give you a yoga DVD to teach you how to relieve stress (which Batum hasn't used)
- surprised by how much food-money (in addition to their normal salary) players are given on road trips
- happy that Roy praised him
- proof from the horse's mouth that Batum has a girlfriend