Since its inception in 2003, on a basketball tip, Quai 54 has garnered a reputation for gritty, physical play, so much so that, according to Sidibe, Fat Joe’s Terror Squad bowed out one year due to the overwhelmingly physical nature of the French players.
“Every year the tournament grows bigger, but I didn’t want to lose the level of basketball because in the end, we don’t have many players in France. So I said we have to do something special,” says Sidibe. “That’s why I contacted the Terror Squad in New York. I wanted them to come. They didn’t finish the tournament because they lost at the final; they didn’t continue the tournament because they said, ‘You play too strong and too hard.’ That’s streetball. You don’t want to be touched. That’s the problem with American guys—when you are in US, it’s no problem, but when you go out of the country, you don’t want to be touched.”
Corey “Da Train” Smith, from the King of Hoops tournament-winning team Houston Momentum, agreed that you can’t just run roughshod over the French streetballers. “I was surprised by how physical the refs let us play,” says former Lamar (TX) standout Smith. “Typically, I played ball over here before and they usually play a more finesse game, they don’t let us play physical. But here, they let us be physical and be men.”
Midway through Day 1 game action, NBA and Jordan Brand All-Star Ray Allen descended on the Quai 54 sideline to thunderous applause from the multitude. The NBA’s all-time three-point leader stepped on court and dropped a few trifectas from deep before the three-point competition, won by Spanish player Alex Piru, got underway.
“Being here for the Quai 54 is a feeling I can’t explain,” says Allen. “I’ve played basketball in an arena most of my life, but when you go to another country and they speak another language and they’re wearing your jersey, that’s like the weirdest, most unusual feeling knowing people are really watching and celebrating the game. It makes you wanna work harder. There’s somebody that appreciates what you do, so to be who you are, you gotta put the work in.”
Allen is a member of the elite JB crew, but that doesn’t mean his love of the shoe isn’t genuine. “It’s hard to say why Jordans are so iconic,” says Allen. “Most of us grew up with the shoe, and it was something we didn’t have or couldn’t get. But it was all about our culture. Spike Lee was wearing the shoe in the movies. You could wear them to play ball and you could wear them to go out. They’re classy yet athletic. They’ve always been that way. And in some cases, they don’t really look like tennis shoes. What you have on your feet? Js. The NBA put in a dress code and they said no tennis shoes. But I can wear a blazer, a tie and some Jordans and I’m dressed up. What can they say? I look good.”
Allen wasn’t the only NBAer in the house, either. Dallas Mavs center and new NBA Champion Ian Mahinmi and Portland Trail Blazer Nicolas Batum were on hand to root for the French teams. During halftimes and intermissions, fans were treated to amateur rap battles, female hip-hop and dancehall performances, a set from popular French rapper Rohff and a risqué performance by Brazilian-inspired Carnival dancers. And before the final between French team La Relève and US squad King of Hoops tipped off, Brooklyn-bred rapper Fabolous rocked the capacity crowd with some of his biggest hits.
“It’s incredible that they bring players from all over to play and rep Jordan Brand,” says Loso. “I’m a Jordan fanatic so as soon as I seen these, I was like, I gotta have ’em. I got wind of the black ones and called my man Reggie [Saunders, JB’s Director of Entertainment Marketing] and said if I don’t get these Vs, I’m not going to Paris. He was like, ‘Nah, we got you. Just make sure you get on a plane.’ It’s a dope color, the black with the green, which have always been one of my favorite shoes.”
Aerial maestro Justin Darlington from Canada won the Slam Dunk Contest before La Relève dismantled their American opponents 49-37. Souarata Cissé, who played for Clermont in the French League last season, won MVP. La Relève lost in the final last year, so for them to win it this time, and over the Americans no less, made this year’s Quai 54 particularly special for the hosts.