PARIS (The International Show) - Since it's Halloween, what could be more appropriate than titling my article Batman, right?
This is the nickname that I proudly copyrighted four years ago when Nicolas Batum was dominating some games for the club of Le Mans at the ripe old age of 18-19.
I had played against his father who tragically died on the court during a game when Nicolas was only three and I was passionately involved while following his extraordinarily precocious career and seeing it take off.
Watching and commentating his debut in the Euroleague, I often had the chance to have long discussions with his mother at the arena before the games and I was impressed by his upbringing, humble attitude and colossal talent as he flew over stocky adversaries like...Batmaaaaan!
Of course he was young and frail too which pushed his coach at the time, Vincent Collet, to nickname him Bambi.
Nicolas was a huge fan of Scottie Pippen's all-around game (when evreybody else adored Michael Jordan) and we often discussed the similarities in their body types and the potential Batum showed to one day follow Scottie onto the NBA stage.
He had that same unreal wingspan for swooping to the basket for spectacularly elegant finishes but also the desire to play defense, block shots and use those tentacular arms to make steals.
Pippen was more of a playmaker in his heyday but Nicholas has developped into a great passer himself as he is actually the assist leader in the Euroleague with eight a game just ahead of the eternal altruist from Panathinaikos, Dimitris Diamantidis.
Surprisingly, Batum was not chosen to play at INSEP, the national basketball school in Paris, and his formative years were beautifully managed by Collet and his staff at Le Mans because THEY knew that they had a rough diamond in their hands who could gradually become a crown jewel even though he didn't have the musculature of a body-builder.
Batum's progression has been constant thanks to the help and confidence of Portland's coach, Nate McMillan (also a Team USA assistant coach) who first saw Nicolas as a defensive stopper off the bench before using him last season as a starter with increased offensive responsibilities on a Trailblazer team that gave future NBA champs Dallas some fits in the playoffs.
A symbolic moment came during the regular season when Batum beat the San Antonio Spurs in Portland with a decisive alley-oop shot over his buddy Tony Parker at the buzzer.
At the Eurobasket in Lithuania, those two were France's leading scorers and money time go-to players for an historic result, reaching the Final and grabbing a direct ticket to London.
Parker was the exemplary, mature leader and Batum was the outside shooting machine and fourth-quarter finisher that France had lacked when they missed out on the Olympics in 2004 and 2008.
Now the two, who seem invariably linked for years to come, are lighting up the French pro league during the NBA's interminable lockout.
As you know, Batman was this past week's MVP in the Euroleague after a stellar performance in a key win over Bilbao in Nancy.
In the last five minutes, Nancy pretty much just gave the ball to Batum and he either created or scored at will which is a sign of his newly-acquired mental toughness and perseverance beause he was stuck at a paltry two for 10 in shooting at halftime!
It was truly a Pippenesque performance approaching a triple-double and generating the best evaluation of the week while practically never leaving the court for a breather.
The frail Bambi has become a very solid Batman!
The sky is the limit for this humble but determined champion who is also quite cultivated and erudite, the proof being that he has written several intelligent and enlightening blogs for a French internet site, Basketsession, about his NBA experience in Portland.
Watching him grow and progress over the last six years has been a pure pleasure!