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French players becoming a source of inspiration when their country needs it most

In a time of national tragedy, the strength and perseverance French players like Nicolas Batum is incredible and deserves all the recognition possible.

Nicolas Batum's Twitter

What happened in Paris on Friday is a horrible and unthinkable event. It is hard enough for me, as a writer, to think, write or tweet about sports with that in the back of my mind.

But to go out and play basketball, when you are miles and numerous time zones away from your home, worrying about your country and if your family and friends are safe?

I honestly have no idea how you would do it. But that is exactly what players like Nicolas Batum are currently doing.

Batum has been a revelation for the Charlotte Hornets so far this season. He has been everything Lance Stephenson was supposed to be, and then some. He leads the team in points per game, minutes per game and player efficiency rating, is second in rebounds and assists per game as well as 3-point percentage, and is third in field goal and free throw percentage.

His last three games have been his best in purple in teal. Batum has finished each game with at least 24 points, six assists and five rebounds while shooting at least 55.6 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep. He has set season-highs in points in all three, including 33 against Portland on Sunday — his first 30+ point game in almost three years to the day. His last two games — against Chicago and Portland — were his most impressive, not just because of his stat lines, but because they were both played within 72 hours of the attacks in Paris. The same attacks that left Batum scared and with a heavy heart.

Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer was able to talk with Batum about what was going through his mind on that harrowing day. He was watching a soccer game between the national teams of his native France and Germany when he, and anyone else watching the game, heard the explosion.

Batum then began to panic. His sister lived next to where one of the attacks happened. Was she OK? What about the rest of his family, and his friends? How many people are hurt?

"It was like a movie or something like that. Too crazy to believe," he told Bonnell after the Hornets' loss to the Bulls on Friday.

Batum was fortunate. He did not lose anyone close in the attacks. But he knows many were not so lucky.

"...I’m sad and I’m praying for all the families who lost someone," he said. "So many people dying for this thing by stupid people. I’m fine, but I’m not because we lost people for nothing; stupid people and I don’t know why they are doing that."

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The forward was inspired. He knew that even though he was more than 4,000 miles away from everyone he cared about in France, he could still encourage them and give them hope. He became motivated to let his play become a symbol for the French people.

"I thought about it all game," Batum said. "I wanted to (have) a good game to show them in my way ‘We’re strong.’ I tried to show people in my way that we’re strong and we won’t (back) down because you are doing bad stuff to people. We’ll keep our heads up, step forward and say we’re better than that."

And that they have.

I cannot say I understand what Batum is going through right now. I have an idea, but I cannot fully comprehend it. The September 11 attacks in the United States are the most comparable event for me, but I was close to my family and friends. I could easily contact them all. I never worried if I had lost a loved one.

Any French player in the NBA was at least five time zones away from home when the atrocious acts happened. I imagine most were unable to immediately get touch with those they care about at home. They had to deal with the biggest French tragedy since World War II from the other side of the world. The strength it takes to deal with something like that is a testament to the spirit of each and every one of these players.

Sports can play a powerful role in helping a nation recover from a national tragedy. Anyone who remembers the attacks on 9/11 remembers then-president George W. Bush's perfect strike in the first World Series game after the attack. ESPN 30 for 30 shorts did a wonderful piece on the moment. It is not a short watch, but well worth the view if you have the time.

French players have had an opportunity to give France their own Bush first pitch, and they have responded the best way they possibly could — by continuing to play at a high level, give their fellow countrymen a distraction from the awful events from Friday and using their play to honor those who lost their lives and to show that these attacks will, in the end, only make the people of France stronger.

This article goes out not just to Batum, but to every French player in the association. It goes to you, Tony Parker. It goes to you, Rudy Gobert. It goes to you, Joakim Noah. It goes to Boris Diaw, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi, Kevin Seraphin, Alexis Ajinca, Damien Inglis and Joffrey Lauvergne. Thank you for being so strong at a time when your fellow countrymen needed it. Thank you for being a source of inspiration not just to the French men and women of the world, but at least one American.

Thank you all.

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