PARIS — On January 5th, Lonnie Walker IV returned from a 17-game absence with a left hamstring strain. At the morning shootaround, he discussed the usual: the rehab process, what it meant to sit on the sidelines, etc. But Walker also clarified what he was most looking forward to about the Brooklyn Nets’ upcoming international adventure.
“I’ve never been to Paris, so I’m taking my father with me. I think that’s a pretty dope moment. We haven’t been — we haven’t flown overseas or gone anywhere in [a long time],” said Walker.
On Wednesday, following Brooklyn’s second practice of the trip, I headed over to Sonny’s Pizzeria, where the Nets had sponsored takeover of the Parisian pizza joint. There’d be bagels with cream cheese, merch, thin New York-style slices, and an appearance from Harry Giles III:
Harry Giles III pulled up to the Brooklyn Nets’ takeover of Sonny’s Pizza near Canal St. Martin today pic.twitter.com/9ZyCCHORzc— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 10, 2024
Standing outside, I began to converse with a kind gentleman wearing a Nets t-shirt, holding a pizza box looking for autographs. I asked if he was a fan. “Kind of,” he replied.
Turns out, it was Lonnie Walker III, father of the Brooklyn Nets’ leading bench-scorer. Among other topics, we discussed the Walkers’ last adventure abroad, a trip to the Bahamas with the younger’s AAU team. According to his father, that trip was a special experience that this one would now rival. It was a fitting end to a day of reflections.
The Brooklyn Nets are its most well-traveled franchise, having played the most international games of any NBA franchise. Yet, no current player was on the roster the last time Brooklyn played a regular-season game abroad, a 2017 loss in Mexico City to the Miami Heat.
This time around, the organization has planned some sightseeing events beyond the customary trip to the Eiffel Tower, including attendance at the debut of an orchestral tribute to the Notorious B.I.G at Théâtre du Châtelet. Yet, even an event like that is still another public appearance with cameras and microphones, nothing too far out of the ordinary How do the Nets appreciate that their basketball journeys have taken them across the globe?
It’s not easy, according to Cam Johnson: “When you get caught up in everything that’s going on, it’s easy to kind of lose yourself in the fact that we play everyday, you’re busy, you’re always traveling. You know, this trip to Paris takes you completely out of your sleep schedule, there’s a lot of inconveniences that come with it.”
Yet, those inconveniences are just a drop in the bucket compared to the entirety of his basketball experience. It started in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, and has now taken the 27-year-old wing to the FIBA World Cup in the Philippines, Paris and more.
And so being able to reflect and keep the perspective that this is really an honor, that it’s something not many people get to experience, and you have to be very good to be able to be in a position to experience it allows you to feel that appreciation a lot more. That allows you to push through and continue to work and continue to try to get better. And so I think that’s how I try to approach these situations. This is what I always wanted to do, and this is what a lot of people would really love to do. And so, it’s an honor and a blessing.
Dennis Smith Jr., now on his sixth NBA team in seven seasons, feels similarly. The backup guard makes it a point to reflect on his journey, even in the middle of it: “I take time out. I take time out to reflect on it. You know, I got people that tell me like, ‘man that’s major you doing this,’ or, ‘it’s dope to see you doing that.’ Like, they try to live to me, you know what I mean? So I try to embrace the moment every time I’m here and take pictures and things just to show them my to my folks back home.”
Yet, this time away from home isn’t just a high-point for individual Nets. While it’s a rare and special accomplishment for members of the team, they are collectively just 16-21 on the season, 3-11 in their last 14 games.
Sure, their trip to Paris may create memories that last a lifetime. But for now, what good is it if they leave without a win? For all the grandeur, this is still a business trip for the Brooklyn Nets.
“It’s a fine line of enjoying this and also making sure that you stay locked in,” said Smith Jr.
Perhaps the rare mid-season practice time in Paris leaves time for both reflection and on-court improvement. Said DSJ: “We had two really good days of practice. Yesterday we came in, got up and down a little bit, got after it. Each day was super high energy everybody locked in. No reps were wasted today. So that’s major for us going forward.”
Dennis Smith Jr. says the Nets have had two "really good" days of practice, including some up-and-down action.— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) January 10, 2024
"It's like football, you get a day where you get to go out there and throw your pads on. You get to let some steam off." pic.twitter.com/o5K0HkncQm
Johnson continued the theme of contemplation, saying the time off “allows us some reflection time where we can really dig deep and take some time to iron some things out, which is exactly what we did the last few days. It’s building conversations, tough conversations where all we’re trying to do is figure things out and get on the same page.”
Tough conversations, joyful reminiscing, and everything in between. Sounds like the perfect family vacation for the Brooklyn Nets!
Whether the players are enjoying their time in Paris, proudly reflecting on their basketball journeys or not, fans are hoping the trip provides a midseason boost for a team suddenly struggling to meet expectations. Sappy feelings the City of Love aside, the Nets are here to win a game, then continue on their journey.
Perhaps reflections of all kinds will help them do so. What else is travel for?