Magazine article Newsweek International

Allez Hoop at the World's Court

Magazine article Newsweek International

Allez Hoop at the World's Court

Article excerpt

Not far from the Eiffel Tower, past the grassy rectangles of the Champs de Mars and just before the Ecole Militaire, stands the "World's Court."

It isn't in stellar shape. The hoop is too low on one end, allowing the tallest of generally small men to dunk flamboyantly from the dusty blacktop. At the other end, the basket is a little too high and there's no net. A swish catches such momentum that it often bounces over the enclosing fence.

Street basketball is all about rough conditions, and rough's the word at the Champs de Mars. Top players aren't likely to drop in, as the San Antonio Spurs star Tony Parker (a.k.a. Tonee Park-air) occasionally does at a court across town. Still, this one has its charms. Lovers stroll by on dirt paths; metal petanque balls "tink" against each other nearby. Some of the ballplayers dress a little too well. Worse, they sip, rather than swig, Vittel.

If you ever need proof that basketball has become a world sport, come here. Africans and Middle Easterners dribble by Asians and Europeans. Americans shoot wildly and at great distance. Courtside, French players intellectualize extravagantly about defensive strategy while Moroccans expound upon how words like bourse, or stock market, derive from Arabic.

As an American living in Paris, it can be hard to escape the politics of Iraq. I encounter little of that at the Champs de Mars, but there are some weird ironies. French and Franco-African kids often use American basketball terms as best they can, calling "foul" instead of "faute," for instance. For some reason, Americans speak English ball terms with feigned French accents. They also note that Europeans pass too much and are unwilling to shoot. Europeans complain that Americans forget the team nature of sports.

Everyone complains that everyone else fouls a lot, though compared with pickup games elsewhere in the world, I marvel at the politesse that usually reigns here. …

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