Bulls handle on-court business, savor off-court Paris experience

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Bulls handle business, savor Paris experience originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

PARIS --- When the Chicago Bulls’ 126-108 victory over the Detroit Pistons ended, Zach LaVine handed his game-worn sneakers to a little girl sitting in the stands at Accor Arena.

LaVine already had gifted his arm sleeve and armband to other lucky fans, who were there to witness just the second regular-season NBA game to be played here in an atmosphere that LaVine called “electric.”

When LaVine spotted the little girl wearing his No. 8 jersey, the decision became an easy one.

“It might be the only time we get to play in Paris,” LaVine said. “So, show some appreciation for the fans.”

On the one hand, Thursday night was about the Bulls focusing on the task of taking care of business against one of the league’s bottom dwellers, which hasn’t happened with regularity this season.

But on a grander scale, players talked leading up to Thursday night about the responsibility of representing the NBA on an international stage and putting on a show.

Mission accomplished on both fronts.

“Man, it was amazing,” DeMar DeRozan said. “Tonight is one of those games, I know for me, I’m going to look back years and years down the line and realize how great of a moment this was. The atmosphere. Having the commissioner [Adam Silver] here. Having Magic Johnson here. Everybody that was in attendance, it definitely was a beautiful atmosphere and a privilege to be part of this whole thing.”

The Bulls never trailed, led by as many as 22 points and placed seven scorers in double figures, topped by LaVine’s 30 points. DeRozan returned from missing three games with a right quad strain---“it was definitely good,” he said---and posted 26 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Nikola Vucevic posted his 10th straight double-double. Derrick Jones Jr. threw down four highlight-reel dunks. The Bulls shared the ball and shot 54.3 percent.

“We played the right way,” LaVine said.

They also not only entertained the sellout crowd of 15,885. They soaked in the experience to savor for themselves.

“It’s a unique situation coming here and playing,” coach Billy Donovan said. “I think as a league, when you get a chance to go to a different country and see people that maybe follow the NBA in ways with the time change – and who knows what hours of the morning, flipping on games or taping games – it’s great for people here in Paris to get an up-close look at the NBA.

“It makes you realize the sport is followed so closely around the world. It was amazing that the place was sold out and the enthusiasm. It was a great experience.’’

In a nod to Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, LaVine noted how “some of the best basketball players in the world are international players,” which he called “beautiful.”

It was clear in talking to all the Bulls that they felt honored to represent the NBA on this stage. And it’s the type of trip that can pay dividends as the season moves forward, particularly if the Bulls continue to, as LaVine said, play the right way.

“The trip was great for us going forward. Spending a lot of time together, bonding. Everybody has seen each other’s family,” LaVine said. “It was a great experience overall.”

Then LaVine, in a nod to the budding sommelier in him, smiled.

“I’m definitely coming back to Paris again, maybe for a wine trip,” he said.

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